Farming for bumblebees

Much of the work that BBCT does is with farmers and other land managers, and we have a team of Conservation Officers working in the parts of the UK where the rarest bumblebees still live. In those areas, we can produce management plans to let them farmers know what seeds to sow, when the cut the resulting wildflowers back, and other aspects of managing their land in ways that will help the bees there. Part of this advisory work includes ‘Farm Days’, where we invite farmers to come along to other farms to see what the farmers there are doing that benefits bees.

I recently held a farm day at the Whitmuir Organic Farm in West Linton, about 15 miles south of Edinburgh. I first visited the farm in late summer, and was very impressed with the work that Pete and Heather, the farm owners were doing. As the farm is completely organic, the management is often very beneficial to bees, without meaning to be. For example, there are large areas of red clover leys. Red clover (and other legumes) adds nutrients to the soil through special ‘nitrogen-fixing’ bacteria held in nodules in the roots. Farmers have been using legumes to add nutrients to their soil for hundreds of years, but this has declined since the invention of chemical fertilisers. As red clover is one of the most valuable food-plants for bumblebees, the presence of these areas on the farm is certainly helping local bee population there. The clover plant itself is also cut for silage and fed to the livestock on the farm.

There were so many other example of excellent management on the farm, including willow-hedges (pictured left) that act as wind-breakers so that the livestock aren’t so exposed to the strong winds there, meaning that they don’t fed as much.  Willow is one of the most important food-plants for queen bumblebees in early spring, so it was lovely to see so much growing there. The farm also had orchards with wildflowers under the trees, traditional hedgerows with many species of shrub (also perfect for nesting bumblebees) and much else. Finally, no pesticides are used on the farm as it is organic.


I was very pleased with the turnout, and 11 farmers and land managers were there. Since the day, some of those attendees have been in touch with us to get advice on managing their own land, so the inspirational tour that Pete gave must have made an impact! Visit to see what is happening at Whitmuir, and visit our website to find out how you can manage your land for bumblebees by clicking here.

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