Friday, 8 June 2012

Creating a buzz: the first ever national farm pollinator survey

Supporting Open Farm Sunday
Ecologists, including scientists from CEH,
 are supporting the survey
Hundreds of farms around Britain are opening their gates to members of the public on Sunday 17 June, with activities for all ages taking place as part of the seventh annual Open Farm Sunday.

This year’s event will also feature the first ever national farm pollinator survey taking place on selected farms across the country, with members of the public joining ecologists in the scientific recording of “pollinators” such as bees, beetles, hoverflies, butterflies and moths which play an important role in the production of our food and the health of the environment.

LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), the organisers of Open Farm Sunday, have teamed up with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Syngenta to carry out the survey in order to find out more about these essential insects. Scientists from CEH will not only be carrying out surveys on the day itself, but will validate and analyse the results collected by the public.

The information collected through the survey will identify trends, improve understanding of the ecology of insects visiting flowers on farms, and in turn help farmers with their work to conserve and encourage pollinating insects.


Pollination is an important and natural process that is vital to the production of many foods and the countryside. It is the movement of pollen from one plant to another, and is needed for many plants and crops to reproduce. Pollination takes place when the pollen lands on the stigma of plants, having been transported there by insects, the wind or animals.

Those taking part in the survey will be provided
with information on how to identify insects.


Approximately 80% of plant types rely on insects for pollination, which is why insect pollinators such as bees, beetles and flies are so important to both the production of our food and the countryside.

It is estimated that insect pollinators are worth more than £500 million to the UK economy because of their contribution to food production and also because they are needed to help maintain the biodiversity of the countryside. As well as their importance to the economy, scientists and farmers need to know much more about the activity of different insect groups and their role in providing a service on farms through pollination.

Insects are attracted to plants for a variety of reasons, of which smell is the most common, although colour and nectar can also play a part. For pollinating insects, plants are also an important source of nutrients.

Pollination is an essential ecosystem service which also supports other vital ecosystems including soil protection and flood control. Without pollinating insects, plants would not be able to reproduce as efficiently, while birds that rely on seeds would be at risk.

As there are thousands of insect species in the UK alone, the scientists leading the survey are asking the public for help. Dr Helen Roy, an ecologist at CEH, said: “We are extremely concerned that long-term surveys are highlighting declines in pollinating insects. People across the country can play a valuable part in recording pollinators on farms and help us to discover more about these important insects.  We want visitors on participating farms to spend a little time recording how many insects they see in two different habitats, such as a field of wheat and a margin of wildflowers. "

Dr Helen Roy introduces the Pollinator Survey

Dr Roy continues, "In addition we have selected five insects, including the common blue butterfly and the 14-spot ladybird, for visitors to record anywhere on the farm they visit.  After Open Farm Sunday all the research will be collated and analysed by a team of scientists and the results shared with farmers to help them conserve pollinating insects on their farms.”

It is a myth that bees are the only insects that pollinate plants and crops. Although it is widely recognised that honeybees carry out insect pollination, the managed honeybee is just one species amongst the 25 species of bumblebee, 225 species of solitary bee and hundreds of butterfly and hoverfly species that make up the UK’s pollinator fauna. Moths, wasps, ladybirds and other insects also play their part in insect pollination.

Visitors needn’t worry however if they don’t know the bumblebee from the honey bee or a stag from a soldier beetle as there will be trained recorders on hand to help on many farms, as well as leaflets, posters and website downloads to help with the identification of the insects.

Additional information

The seventh annual Open Farm Sunday on 17 June 2012 provides a great opportunity for the public to get to know how their food is produced and how the countryside around them is cared for. Visitors will be able to learn from farmers themselves how natural plant and insect species are encouraged to thrive alongside crops, they will get a close-up look at farm animals and see how the needs of wildlife are balanced with modern food production.

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