Get involved with citizen science on Open Farm Sunday

This blog post comes from Caroline Drummond MBE, LEAF Chief Executive

Insects are estimated to contribute over £400 million per annum to the UK economy and €14.2 billion per annum to the EU economy through pollination alone.  Pollinating insects and agriculture need each other. They pollinate crops and agricultural land, which covers 75% of Britain.  In turn, this land is home to much of our wildlife and insects.  The role of the honey bee in pollination has been widely recognised, however, more recently, attention has turned to wild pollinators, such as bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, and butterflies, and their important role in crop production.  This is particularly the case when it comes to crop production, one study found that bumblebees were twice as abundant as honeybees in UK oilseed rape fields.

It’s hugely important that farmers manage their land in a way that supports these pollinators.  Luckily, there are many farmers out there who are doing just this.  Looking after their land in an environmentally friendly way, providing valuable habitats for all kinds of wildlife including insects.  We certainly encourage this with our members, some of whom   are LEAF Marque certified which means you can buy food grown by farmers who are doing some great things for the environment (look out for the logo, right).

Each year we run a project called Open Farm Sunday.  It’s your chance to visit a farm and see for yourself what farmers are doing (this year it is on the 9th June – get it in your diary!).  Last year, we ran the first ever national pollinator survey, in partnership with the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).  It was a great way to get visitors thinking about what farmers do to produce food as well as enhance biodiversity – at the same time as having some fun counting insects!  Overall, 36 farms took part, 16,380 insects were counted, 6,738 in commercial crops and grassland and 9,642 in non-crop areas such as hedges and wildflower margins.  The results were fed back to CEH and provided a unique snapshop of insect activity on UK farms.  They highlighted the wealth of pollinating bees and other insect species active in commercial crops. Crop type significantly affected bee abundance with oilseed rape, linseed and beans supporting higher numbers of bees than other crops.

The survey also highlighted the enthusiasm of people of all ages for getting involved and getting so much enjoyment from a scientific study.  It was a great example of citizen science and we’re hoping to repeat it again this year.

If you’d like to take part, you can find a farm near you to visit on the Open Farm Sunday website (click here), there are fewer farms taking part in the survey this year, but if you look out for the bee symbol on the event pages, this means that they’ll be doing the pollinator survey – but please note that these listings won’t be confirmed for a couple of weeks yet so it’s best to check back nearer the 9th June if the pollinator survey is what you’re most interested in!

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