World Environment Day and Farms for AONBees converge in Cornwall

After a successful pilot, the next phase of the ‘Farms for AONBees’ partnership project goes live today, at a time when the world shines a light on the importance of protecting our environment.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is 'Connecting People to Nature’ and that’s just what Cornwall’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit (CAONB) and researchers at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) plan to do, as we extend the reach of our project into new farming communities across the county.

For the past six months the ‘Farms for AONBees’ team has been working with 5 farms and land owners across the different faces of Cornish farmland. Using a free computer programme conceived and developed at the ESI, which shows how virtual bees survive in digital landscapes, we have been able to help farmers learn where their bee colonies may be and how they could be surviving on their holdings. We have also been able to provide them with customised recommendations about how and where they could increase the habitat and flowers available to bees and other pollinators, which is not just beneficial to bees but can also help Cornish food production thrive with better rates of pollination.

Key findings from stage 1, saw how even just small changes in management could make a big difference to the number of bumblebees on not just one farm but across neighbouring farms to achieve landscape-scale benefits.  In addition, by planting the right flowers, in the right place, you could increase the rates of pollination significantly whilst providing free fertiliser for the soil and protein, vitamins and minerals for livestock.

Joe Dunstan, Farmer and owner of Cousin Jack’s Ltd was one of the pilot project participants and said, “The Farms for AONBees team came up, explained to us where the bee colonies were likely to be, then showed us all the different options that we could choose for ways to manage our areas that we don’t crop. We discovered that just by making a few small changes we can increase the pollinators around, which in turn will have a benefit to the crops that we’re growing”.

Over 20 bee-friendly delegates from across Cornwall’s scientific, agricultural and conservation communities attended a special workshop on the ‘Farms for AONBees’ project at last week’s CAONB Annual Conference on the Lizard. Their feedback and creative input is helping us to shape the next stage of the project, which has already seen the ESI expand the regional partnership to include Natural England and South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The project will also help researchers tailor the computer models for land owners, managers and advisors to support pollinator populations on farmland. After using the ESI’s model of bumblebee colonies called BUMBLE-BEEHAVE during the pilot phase, the project will now include the other models on Honeybee behaviour and pollinator landscape exploration into a new decision-support tool called BEE-STEWARD.

Credit: Clare Lemon

Credit: Clare Lemon

Grace Twiston-Davies, ESI Research Associate and ‘Farms for AONBees’ project lead said, “We’ve learnt a lot from the pilot project and it’s been invaluable in getting feedback on the models and the service we provide for farmers and agricultural experts. We’ll factor that into this next phase as we put the new model to work. Ultimately we hope this cutting-edge research developed on the Penryn campus and disseminated by the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Unit will help provide some solutions to the challenges of protecting the nations’ bees and balancing food security.

The beauty and biodiversity of the UK countryside is inherently important to the nations’ Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Along with the productivity and quality of the nation’s £100bn food industry, they are significantly dependent upon the abundance and sustainability of pollinating insect numbers. Whilst there are at least 1500 species of pollinating insects in the UK, a loss in flower-rich habitats attributable to the intensification of agriculture, rapid industrial development and urbanisation, has led to a marked decline in the profusion of pollinators. Indeed, the UK has lost 20 species of bee since the 1900s and a further 35 are considered under threat (Friends of the Earth).

Farmers, landowners and the public interested in learning more about the ‘Farms for AONBees’ project can find us at Stand 237 in the Forestry tent at this week’s Royal Cornwall Show, which takes place in Wadebridge on the 8th, 9th and 10th June.