Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Pollinators, the public and putting your MSc project in the hands of the elements

Staff and students from CEH are heavily involved with the first ever national farm pollinator survey on 17 June as part of Open Farm Sunday. In this week’s guest blog, newly arrived MSc student Lucy Cornwell describes the role she will be playing in the survey.
I am an MSc student from the University of Leeds, based at CEH’s headquarters site in Wallingford for the summer. My main role is to assist Dr Helen Roy and Dr Michael Pocock with a citizen science pollinator monitoring scheme, a collaboration between the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Linking Environment And Food (LEAF) and Syngenta. The data will be collected by the public, and the project will run as part of Open Farm Sunday, a nationwide event organised by LEAF. For the past six years, farmers have been opening their doors (and gates!) to educate the public on food production and modern farming issues. This year around 300 farms are taking part on June 17th, and at least 30 of these will also be participating in the pollinator monitoring scheme. Limited funding in biological recording means that citizen science programmes are now an important tool in gathering large and geographically widespread datasets.

The public play an important role in biological recording.

The pollinator activities will consist of two surveys; one making five minute observations of two habitats; crop and non-crop, recording the invertebrate orders which visit the flowers. The second targets five species which are included in current recording schemes and participants simply note whether or not they have seen them. Voluntary experts will be available for assistance and to identify any interesting invertebrates. On the day I will be based at a farm ten minutes from CEH’s Wallingford site, which has invited children from two local schools. Parents will also be coming and we will welcome their help with the survey, adding extra sets of eyes to the task.
Aside from looking at invertebrates, the children will have a chance to learn about crop production, see some large farm machinery and play with the chickens! The focus at this site is keeping the children entertained so they don’t lose enthusiasm and their invertebrate spotting skills. If the weather doesn’t cooperate then the survey will have to take a back seat to other activities, and I will quietly weep into the redundant recording sheets.
The aim of the pollinator monitoring project is to increase public interest in wildlife and biological recording schemes, whilst collecting scientifically useful data on farmland pollinator communities. Once participants have completed the survey they can either enter their data onsite to see it added to the database, or upload it via the Open Farm Sunday website. Headline results will be released in the days following the event, before we look at the data more closely. If all goes to plan then the data should provide patterns of distribution of certain species, and form the basis for a repeatable survey revealing any changes in this over time.  It may also reveal differences in invertebrate community structure geographically, and between different farm types. Our hope is that a better understanding of how pollinators carry out their work in different habitats will help farmers to grow more food sustainably, and lead to a more wildlife friendly landscape.

There are nearly 300 bee species in Britain, most of them
solitary bees such as this one. Together they provide a large
proportion of pollination services in the country.

Overall it should be a really enjoyable day for everyone involved, and a chance for us all to learn something about farmland invertebrates.
Fingers crossed for sunshine!
Posted by Lucy Cornwell

Additional information

More details about the farm pollinator survey from the Open Farm Sunday website.

Staff pages of Dr Helen Roy and Dr Michael Pocock at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

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