Protecting Kent’s honeybees

Pollinators love nectar-rich flowers

Pollinators love nectar-rich flowers - Credit: Archant

Farmers and landowners can all help protect our pollinators, but getting the balance right is vital

Without pollinators, it has been claimed that the world would starve within five years. This sounds dramatic, but it does emphasise the huge importance of bees in the food chain.

In Kent, we have seen a range of initiatives to protect bees, including summits organised by Kent County Council and a Plan Bee competition for schools.

Produced in Kent is working on a project to improve bee numbers and honey production. This will help farmers, increase wildflowers, create jobs and reduce imports; at present around 80 per cent of our honey comes from outside the UK.

Given the very significant contribution that the fruit sector makes to our regional rural economy, achieving the right balance between environmental protection and agricultural production is vital.

Pollinators require not only pollen and nectar-rich flowers to provide food, but also shelter and nest sites. Landowners are ideally situated to help provide these through environmental stewardship schemes and voluntary measures such as sowing nectar and pollen-rich wildflower seed mixtures on fallow land, providing buffer strips around fields or managing hedgerows to boost flowering.

CLA works closely with Campaign for the Farmed Environment to encourage members to instigate voluntary measures which support pollinators without adversely affecting agricultural production.

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These include encouraging the creation of nesting and resting habitats with flowering plants such as cowslips and poppies that provide the right sources of pollen and nectar. It is vital that this happens not only in the nesting season from March to September, but also early in the year when colonies are being established and later when the pollinators are preparing for hibernation. In Kent, our fruit orchards also have a significant contribution to make, with apple, pear and cherry trees providing rich pickings for pollinators.

The health of pollinators is also linked to the provision of suitable nesting and hibernation sites. Farmers and landowners help by reducing the trimming of hedgerows, which provide good sources of pollen and nectar, from willow catkins, blackthorn and hawthorn in spring to ivy in the autumn.

Hedgerows also provide a wide range of breeding habitats, often at the base, where holes created by mice or tussocky grass provide nesting for bumblebees and solitary bees and rotting vegetation gives food and shelter for hoverfly larvae.

Last November, the Government’s national pollinator strategy was launched to help protect bees and other pollinating insects which support food production and the diversity of our environment.

We work closely with our members to highlight and provide information on greening measures under the CAP reform and Countryside Stewardship, the new agri-environment scheme which provides a level of incentives for land managers to look after their environment. We continue to campaign for help with incentives for farmers and landowners to encourage them to grow plants that provide pollen and nectar sources and nesting habitats.

But we must not underestimate the cost to the landowner of introducing measures which remove areas of land out of active crop production. Over-zealous removal of pesticide products could have a damaging effect on our regional fruit farming industry and any decisions on this must be based on sound scientific evidence.

It’s not just the beauty of the countryside that would be diminished if we allow pollinating insects fall into serious decline; many aspects of our food production will be damaged too. There is a lot at stake. n