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Bees Blossom on Wildflowers

Stewardship
08.03.2016
Mike Edwards

Operation Pollinator field margins and pollinator habitats are already delivering a greater diversity of wildflower food sources, and supporting important pollinating insects.

Monitoring of Operation Pollinator Annual Wildflower Mix by independent entomologist, Mike Edwards (above), has identified a number of valuable solitary bee species, including Andrena flavipes that is an important pollinator of oilseed rape and other crops.  

“Against a backdrop of declining numbers of pollinating insects, we have seen encouraging results for some bee species,” reports Mike Edwards.

Annual flower mix bee

“This is thanks largely to the efforts of farmers to establish wildflower habitats and the changes in cultivation techniques that help some ground nesting solitary bees,” he advised.

“What is ideal, from the flavipes’ perspective, are areas of annual wildflowers to support a first generation, and then perennial margins coming into flower and feeding a second generation that will give rise to early bee populations the following spring.”

Mike cited some of the flower species now included in the Operation Pollinator Annual Wildflower Mix as being especially important for solitary bees. Corn Camomile and Corn Marigold, for example, provide an early food resource and encourage bee populations, alongside OSR and the increased area of field beans this season.

Furthermore, Mike highlighted that a change to minimal tillage cultivation techniques had benefitted some of the ground nesting solitary bee species, since the shallow depth of cultivation could leave nests undisturbed.

“Field edges had seen a noticeable increase in nest sites, particularly in areas around the annual wildflower margins of the Syngenta Innovation Site in Hampshire, for example,” he says.

Annual mix in flower

The Operation Pollinator Annual Wildflower Mix was established on more than 400 hectares of new habitat in its first year, with subsequent offers extending the area and supplemented by a spring-sown Bees ’n’ Seeds offer.

Further monitoring and scientific evaluation by Mike Edwards and colleagues aims to quantify the real difference being made by farmers through ecological enhancement alongside productive field cropping.

 

Perennial extension

Clover dominated perennial flower mixes have been extremely successful in feeding and encouraging bumblebees, according to Mike Edwards. Now new Syngenta research is looking at extending the value of these habitats with additional plant species, such as Rough Hawksbit, that can provide food resources for specialist bee species, including Andrena humilis that was recently identified on trials at the Jealotts Hill Research Centre.

Annual mix pollinator