NEC05797 Sustainable Management of Orchard Pollination Services

Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Department Name: Biodiversity (Wallingford)

Abstract

Insect pollinators provide a vital ecosystem service supporting crop pollination and reproduction in wild plants. Reported declines in pollinators threaten this service and could have serious implications for food security. A key crop dependent on insect pollination is apples, and the contribution of wild pollinators to UK apple production is worth an estimated £95M p.a. However, "pollination gaps" of more £6000/ha have been identified in some varieties, where desired yields and quality are not being achieved due to inadequate pollination. This presents a major opportunity for growers for increased production and profit through better pollination. The documented decline of pollinating insects also poses a significant risk to fruit production by negatively impacting on crop production. In response, top fruit growers have articulated the need to effectively manage pollination services by wild insects in a way that is cost effective in order to maintain production and quality in the face of continued environmental change.

Our project will develop high quality science to address this need by designing and testing three pollinator management strategies in field scale trials in commercial apple orchards. These include establishing flower rich strips to provide food and shelter for pollinators, providing nesting habitat for ground nesting bees, and adapting the number and placement of 'polleniser' trees in orchards to increase levels of pollination.

Apple trees are predominantly self-incompatible and require pollen from 'polleniser' trees to set fruit, so although they don't produce saleable fruit, pollenisers are planted in orchards. Currently the number of pollinisers planted is based on a rule of thumb of 1 polleniser for every 12 apples trees. As a first step in this project we will trial different numbers and arrangements of polliniser tree in study orchards and measure how this effects pollination and apple production in order to establish an optimum arrangement and ratio.

Flower strips are known to benefit pollinators. In this project, for the first time, we will design bespoke flower strips specifically aimed at supporting known apple pollinators. We will design our flower strips to contain plants that are particularly good for ground nesting bees and bumblebees which have been identified as top pollinators in apple orchards. Furthermore, we will top our margins (i.e. use a high level cut to remove just the flowers) during apple flowering to push pollinators off the flower strips and onto the apple blossom thus maximising the benefit strips provide. The impact of these targeted flower strips on pollinators and apple production will be measured in field scale trials in commercial orchards.

While the provision of floral resources for pollinators is a well-established approach for increasing pollinator numbers, provision of nesting sites has been widely overlooked and little is known about the effect this can have on pollination service. In this project we will create novel ground nesting bee nest sites in our study orchards and measure the impact these have on bee populations and their contribution to the pollination of apples.

Findings from our field trials will be brought together, and the cost of interventions and the economic return in terms of long-term improvements in quality and production will be established. Our overarching aim is to understand the mechanistic basis of how these three interventions, individually and in combination, effect the value of pollination service contributions to production and profit, so that we can "engineer" the most effective in-orchard interventions. The costs and benefits of these approaches will be assessed to allow specific management recommendations to be made to growers that are practical to implement and provide proven economic returns to growers by supporting long-term stable pollination of apple orchards.

Technical Summary

Insect pollination is essential for apple production, improving yield, fruit quality and market value. Pollination deficits in excess of £6,000/ha in UK dessert apple orchards have been identified, so significant economic returns by improving pollination services could be made. Research shows that the majority of apple pollination services are provided by a few species of wild bees. The aim of this project is to design and test three interventions to enhance the effectiveness of wild pollinators of orchards.

Pollinisers are trees grown in orchards providing a viable pollen source for the commercial trees, but do not contribute to production. Currently the numbers and locations of pollinisers in orchards uses a 'rule of thumb'. The optimum number and spatial distribution of polliniser trees in orchards will be tested in field trial manipulations.

Floral strips benefit pollinators and enhancing wild bee nesting habitat can locally enhance bee numbers. We will "engineer" the optimal floral composition of flower strips, based on morphology and flowering time, to develop and test flower margins specifically targeted at apple pollinators. In tandem, ground nesting bee habitat will be created to test effects on pollinators and pollination service. Impact of these interventions, individually and in combination, on pollinators and pollination services will be tested in a large scale field trial.

Bio-economic analysis of these interventions will be undertaken utilising a production function method linking management and habitat quality parameters to pollination services as well a portfolio analyses developing spatially explicit management portfolios for growers. Findings will be disseminated through our industrial partners and then to the wider grower community and more broadly through policy benefitting top-fruit production across the UK by promoting cost effective wild pollinator management strategies increasing production quality and stable yields.

Planned Impact

The impact of this research will be far reaching and findings from the project will directly benefit growers and inform policy decision making with resulting benefits for the consumer and the general public.

GROWERS:
The value of insect pollination to UK agriculture is estimated to be £691M p.a. (2011) with the value to apples alone at least £95M. The direct involvement and financial support of Avalon and Worldwide Fruit in this IPA project reflects their interest in the outcomes and they have been involved through the proposal development process. Their involvement also provides a direct link for dissemination of findings to the fruit growing industry, ensuring maximum impact in the form of long-term adaptations to orchard management, improving top fruit pollination and food security. The University of Reading, East Malling Research and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology have long-standing relationships with many other grower organisations and supermarkets including Berry Gardens, Sainsbury's, Total Berry, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and Waitrose, enabling research findings to have impact beyond project partners. Methods for engaging and influencing the grower community include the use of demonstration orchards, multiple stakeholder workshops, grower factsheets and "how to" guides, presentations at tradeshows and publication of materials on industry partner websites.

POLICY MAKERS:
Findings from this project will provide evidence to help shape UK policy, particularly in areas of sustainable food production and CAP Countryside Stewardship schemes. Project outputs will be made directly available to government evidence teams through the production of Policy Briefs (e.g. POSTNotes and Policy and Practice Notes) for which the research team has considerable experience. Furthermore, Potts is a member of Defra's Pollinator Expert Advisory Group which is headed by Prof Ian Boyd (Defra's Chief Scientific Advisor), and a member of Defra's Sustainable Intensification Platform Research Advisory Group, thereby ensuring information transfer. He also Chairs the UN Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assessment of Pollination and Food Production and advises the European Parliament, Commission's DG's and FAO on pollination and food security, thereby giving access to international policy makers.

GENERAL PUBLIC:
Pollinators provide essential services underpinning production of high value, nutritious, locally produced products. Evidence from this project will help support sustainable management of pollination services in the UK, ensuring a more stable supply of quality produce which will feedback through the supply chain and potentially benefit consumers. Furthermore, the public has an increasing awareness of the links between pollinators and food production and our work will look to further the public's understanding of the importance of wild pollinators. Our research team has considerable experience presenting research at public events and engaging the public with representation at a number of recent events including LEAF Open Farm Sundays, Cereals, County Agricultural Shows, Oxford festival of nature, Oxford Bio Blitz, and Wildlife Trust family wildlife activity day. The University of Reading, CEH and EMR dedicated press teams will also provide support preparing press releases following major project findings, ensuring they are accurate and distributed to the most relevant and high impact media sources for maximum public exposure and resulting impact.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The key findings from this project to date include: 1) perennial flower and grass mixtures can be established successfully around UK orchards and these are utilised by a variety of pollinator species, 2) insect pollinators are critical for sufficient fruit set and improve fruit quality across our UK study orchards, 3) the most common pollinators visiting apple blossom are solitary bees, 4) growers are motivated to be involved in research and implement management strategies to help pollinators in order to support their crop production.
Exploitation Route The project findings have been incorporated into a practical advice leaflet on the creation and management of pollinator habitat in farmed landscapes:
https://www.ceh.ac.uk/sites/default/files/bee-book-chart.pdf
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The project ended in March 2020 with the collaboration having achieved numerous engagement activities, including research blogs on the value of pollinators to apples in the UK, radio appearances highlighting the importance of solitary bees in orchards as well as a number of presentations to policy, industry and public audiences. We also held a specific grower demonstration day in the field to provide farmers with project updates, demonstrate the success of the wildflower areas and nesting habitats, and receive feedback and suggestions on project development and engagement. In addition we held two morning meetings with project scientists, industrial sponsors and growers to discuss progress and results.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Book aimed at farmers and agri-environment scheme advisors: Title: Habitat Creation and Management for Pollinators (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Grower guide/ leaflet on "How to successfully establish perennial wildflower areas"
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Outcomes and methodological advances from this Grant contributed technical content to a leaflet for fruit growers about "How to successfully establish perennial wildflower areas" adjacent to commercial crops. The leaflet/ guide was produced as part of BEESPOKE, an Interreg project supported by the North Sea Programme of the European Regional Development Fund of the EU.
 
Description AHDB Fruit Agronomists' Day, NIAB EMR 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talks on New orchard biodiversity (TF 223), SWD Bait v overall sprays (SF/TF 145a)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Defra's Bees Needs Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public engagement event with displays, hands on activities and educational games promoting pollinators and disseminating project outputs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Information leaflet on the creation and management of habitat for insect pollinators in the UK and Europe 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Production of an information leaflet to support practitioners in the creation and management of habitat for insect pollinators on farmland in the UK and Europe. The leaflet describes the ecological requirements of insect pollinators, provides practical guidance on how to design, establish and manage pollinator habitats on farmland. Finally, it provides new detailed information on the important floral resources utilised by insect pollinators in the British countryside. This information will be critically important for the design of new pollen and nectar rich seed mixes to support pollinators. The guidance leaflet is available free of charge in online and paper formats.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.ceh.ac.uk/sites/default/files/bee-book-chart.pdf
 
Description Invited talk to Wild Oxfordshire AGM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk to the Wild Oxfordshire groups' AGM featuring CEH research on "Conservation and monitoring of pollinators: from field to national scales" - attended by a range of local and national NGO representatives and interested stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Joint CEH/ AHDB/ NIAB workshop on links between research and the horticultural industry 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Useful discussions identifying research gaps and potential for further collaboration between the ecological research sector and horticulture industry - the BBSRC Orchards project was featured in a presentation and seen as a good example of an effective collaboration in this area.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Oxford Real Farming Conference 2018 - speaker slot 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Farming event for researchers, public, NGOs and agronomists, Michael Gove also presented.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description SMOOPS 2nd apple grower engagement day. East Malling Research. 13/03/2018. Presentation and meeting with industry partners and growers to feedback and discuss progress of the SMOOPS project. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation and meeting with industry partners and growers (15 people) to feedback and discuss progress of the SMOOPS project to talk about how to support sustainable pollination of UK apples crops. We got feedback from growers on their production priorities as well as how our targeted management interventions are performing in their orchards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Sustainable Management of Orchard Pollination Service Final Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Final SMOOPS project meeting with academics, industry partners and growers. Shared latest results and got feedback from study participants. Lots of requests for further information and confirmed involvement in follow-on projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Talk at Newton Grant SURPASS workshop to Latin American pollinator ecologists 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Workshop held in Bariloche, Argentina to bring together UK and Latin American pollinator ecologists on the theme of Safeguarding Pollination Services in a Changing World. Research findings and concepts from this grant well received and discussed in the light of application to the situation across Latin America.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The ASSIST Programme @ combined LEAF and AHDB Farmers day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Summary talk of the ASSIST program to encourage participation in new yield network and increase understanding of ASSIST experiments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019