#FarmingCan: Want to become more environmentally friendly? See how bees can benefit your farm

clock • 5 min read
#FarmingCan: Want to become more environmentally friendly? See how bees can benefit your farm

In a bid to save the UKs native bees, Emma Buckley tells Emily Ashworth about how farmers could help save this declining population.

Buckleys Bees, run by father and daughter team David and Emma Buckley, are on a mission to increase the UKs native bee population, which has sadly seen a steep decline.

Emma says: There are different strains of honeybee from different countries, and what has happened over the years is different honeybee strains have been imported, bred with native stock and created a hybrid bee which can be quite aggressive.

Bees have adapted to their environment over centuries. Continental bees that are mentioned fly longer and forage for longer in their home environments which are much warmer than the UK. When imported they do not necessarily cope with the UK climate.

Some beekeepers find that the imported bees produce more honey, in a good season. However, their progeny may show defensive behaviour due to hybridisation with local bees and in a bad season can often starve to dead as theyre not used to our climate."

Through their latest campaign, BEEcause, Emma wants to educate people about this issue, and of the importance of essential pollinators, working with schools to corporate business partners to engage from top level right through to the consumer.

Hives have now been placed across many sites in the UK including the Bentley headquarters, Taylor Wimpey, Yeo Valley and Arla dairy farms.

A lot of businesses want to do more and engage employees and give back to the environment by increasing biodiversity, says Emma.

Decline

So, what has happened to our native humble bee? The sharpest decrease occurred between 2006-2015 which saw about 25 per cent fewer indigenous species spotted, and a further study in 2019 found a third of British wild bees and hoverflies are in decline. Unfortunately, these declines are linked to habitat loss coupled with the use of herbicides and pesticides - herbicides alone, says Emma, remove all flowering species within a crop which the bees and pollinators depend on for food.

Emma says: 97 per cent of wildflower meadows have been removed since World War Two. To help reverse this trend the maintenance of hedgerows and buffer strips with native plant species planted are invaluable. Increased flowering species increases pollinators which in turn creates a natural ecosystem that is rich in diversity.

If we think about the way we are farming making fields bigger for bigger machinery and bigger yields this can go hand in hand with retaining habitats by dedicating awkward corners and hard to reach places for spaces for nature.

Emma, 29, studied Agricultural Business at Harper Adams and runs a small beef farm in Cheshire.

Between herself and David, they have over 65 years of experience, and their aim is to steadily and sustainably increase native bee numbers. The bees come first, but hives can be placed almost anywhere if there is enough food and flora within three miles. There is huge potential for farmers to help with Emmas mission, too, and by doing so they will find, she says, that it benefits much more than helping to save the countrys native bee.

Emma says: "Through the introduction of bees, improves the pollination of many species of plants. These plants and crops then set seed in greater abundance for the next season thereby attracting diverse other nectar feeders and pollinators in subsequent seasons. Healthy cross pollination also ensures healthy seed and fruit development which improves plant health generally. It has been estimated that insect pollination contributes 630 million per year to the UK economy.

Some crops such as beans for example have seen as much as a 35 per cent yield increase when pollinator populations were actively increased through designated spaces from nature, bee placement and buffer strips introduced to farms."

Emma goes on to talk about her beef farms TB free status, and the effect of a healthy ecosystem which bees can contribute too.

In 40 years, weve never had a TB reactor and Im not making any claims, but the healthy hedgerow boundaries that run around the edge of the farm give the badgers a corridor full of food to run through, rather than running through the fields, she says.

Implementing change can, however, be daunting, especially if your farm has always worked a certain way.

But Emma urges farmers to look at the potential results and how nature can positively contribute to the farms productivity.

If you have pushed your farm to the maximum, then reducing that can be dauting, however, will your crops be better? In the end will you get more for less?

Think of the improved biodiversity which helps soil structure worm populations are also in decline, she says.

There has also been an extra added benefit to this scheme, and it is something that has become even more apparent during the pandemic: nature and improved mental health.

And she firmly believes bees can contribute to this.

You can take a moment to stop and unwind at the end of a long farming day to watch the bees working at the hive and foraging different colours of pollen, she says.

From the promotion of biodiversity to the employment of local beekeepers, the fight to save UK bees is, it would seem, as beneficial to people as it is to the environment.

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Comment

It has been a delight to see the busy bees in the clover fields and on the flowers. We plan to plant more fruit trees and flower strips around the farm for the bees to feed on and pollinate, which in turn should produce food for other insects and animals. We feel if the bees stay, we have conditions about right and are very much enjoying having them on site.

Robin Williams, Arla organic farmer with hives on his farm

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