Monday, 25 June 2012

One week on: Reflections on the first national farm pollinator survey

Staff and students from Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) were heavily involved with the first ever national farm pollinator survey on 17 June which took place as part of Open Farm Sunday. One week on Lucy Cornwell and Olivia Richardson, two MSc students spending the summer at CEH, describe the important role they played in a very successful day.

Sunshine, stag beetles and sibling rivalry
2012 is the first year that a national citizen science pollinator monitoring scheme has been attempted. On June 17th, ecologists from CEH and Syngenta, and other local experts, travelled to over 20 farms around the country to coordinate this project. Along with Morag, an ecologist from CEH, I was based at Crowmarsh Battle Farms in Oxfordshire where local school children had been invited to visit for the first time. To celebrate this, the sun came out on our farm (and luckily many others across the country!) leading to a huge sigh of relief from everyone involved. From 2pm a steady stream of visitors arrived, all very eager to take part in the survey. Our two sites were a wheat field and neighbouring field margin containing a mix of wildflowers.

Sunshine helped to attract a good selection of invertebrate life to the wildflowers, with particularly high numbers of bees and flies. The children were really enthusiastic about hunting for insects, and had very clear ideas about what they would see; “Stag beetles, definitely”. Sibling rivalry was very high, and answer sheets were closely guarded to prevent copying. Despite some unrealistic predictions and serious competition levels, everyone was thrilled with their results and left with a little more knowledge and passion for wildlife.

Searching for pollinating insects

Around 60 people visited Crowmarsh Battle Farm, and we managed to collect 22 surveys, a great result. Nationally we have received over 500 records from 30 farms across the country. These cover ten different farm habitats, five each of crop and non-crop. From this data we will be able to investigate geographical patterns – is there a North/South divide? We will also be able to determine the most important farm habitats for invertebrates, which should help to provide advice for farmers who want to increase pollinator populations on their land.  

So far it seems that the pollinator monitoring project has been a great success, providing a very interesting dataset and helping to connect people with farmland wildlife. To quote Toby, age 6 who visited College Farm in Duxford; “I think it’s super”. 

Lucy Cornwell

Pollinators and sunshine

 “A bee, a bee, I’ve found a bee, come and see!” As an MSc student from the University of Leeds, doing my dissertation at CEH’s headquarters in Wallingford, it was great to hear the enthusiasm of a small child about wildlife on Open Farm Sunday. Although my project isn’t related to pollinators, when I heard about the fantastic opportunity of helping with the Pollinator Survey, I knew I wanted to get involved. This was the first time that the Pollinator Survey had been run and it sounded like an excellent way for Citizen Science to help research such an important topic that affects us all, as well as create greater awareness and enthusiasm about the wildlife that surrounds us every day.

Olivia helps a young volunteer complete the survey

On the day, I went with a team of three members of CEH staff to College Farm in Cambridgeshire, one of the farms participating in Open Farm Sunday. It was a gloriously sunny day (Thankfully! We all had imagined that we might be standing by our site under umbrellas…) and everyone we met at the farm immediately made us feel welcome and were very helpful in setting up the survey. Our first task of the day was to select the two habitat areas where the pollinator survey would take place: a crop habitat and a non-crop habitat. The whole survey would consist of looking for pollinators on flowers (aided by an invertebrate key) at the crop habitat as well as at the non- crop habitat for five minutes each. After much discussion, we chose an area a short distance from the tractor rides which had an abundance of flowering plants, with the option of either Oilseed rape (Brassica napus) or Potato (Solanum tuberosum) plants as a crop habitat. A strip of flowering field margin that ran along the crops was classed as the non-crop habitat.

Once we were set up, we eagerly awaited the public to arrive to try out the survey. After the farm was open, we didn’t have long to wait, with children racing each other to reach us at the site. A range of generations, from grandparents to toddlers came to our site, all interested to hear about what we were doing and how they could help. When the survey had been explained, members of the public, either in groups or as individuals started searching at each habitat for invertebrates aided by CEH experts and invertebrate keys. It was great to see how quickly everyone (from the experienced to complete novices) got involved in the survey, with children and adults alike amazed at the variety of different species of invertebrates seen. Throughout the day, you could hear groups of children shouting at each other when they found something. The afternoon was a great success with groups of people coming in a constant flow and with over 40 pollinator surveys undertaken within a few hours. There was such a positive attitude towards learning about wildlife from the survey; it was a really great thing to see.

Olivia Richardson

Additional information

Latest results from the Pollinator Survey from the Open Farm Sunday website

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

More photos from the Open Farm Sunday pollinator survey

Watch videos about the pollinator survey on our YouTube channel

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