A hi-tec approach to helping our farmers to restore pollinators

The Farms for AONbees project is a collaborative effort between Cornwall AONB, The University of Exeter in Cornwall, South Devon AONB and a host of others.

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The project began in Nov 2016, following a successful bid to the Natural Environment Research Council’s Innovation Internship Fund to which the Cornwall AONB was industry lead. As a result we hosted Dr Grace Twiston-Davies for the two years of the project and we continue to host her as we progress our joint work on pollinators.

The key aim of Farms for AONBees is to enhance pollinators and pollination across outstanding landscapes, finding management solutions that benefits both bees and business

The project also aims to increase the understanding of how different land management options impact bee populations

The key outcome of farms for AONBees is the piloting and refinement of cutting edge computer modelling tools to assist in the targeting of natural capital based farm management. This is a project which uses the latest technology and demonstrates how agri-tech and RnD can play a critical role in shaping a sustainable future for agriculture.

This is a great example of a collaborative partnership project brought about through the AONB partnership model. Our key partner in the project was the pollinator research team at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter in Cornwall. Through the AONB Partnership, we drew in our land management organisations, the NFU, the National Trust and Natural England and also Cornwall Council via county farms and within economic development and FWAG.

From this partnership sprang close relationships with a number of farmers in the AONB. The project was expanded in June 2017 to incorporate South Devon AONB and their facilitation area afforded similar contacts and relationship with farmers to be built. Everyone involved in the project has had input into the method, research and development of the bee computer modelling and everyone has benefitted from the adaptive learning process and knowledge exchange.  In the Cornwall AONB, we worked on 5 key farms to map and survey them, using the bee models to develop bespoke reports for those farms and then working with the farms to improve the model’s interface and the accessibility of the reports, more closely aligning them with Countryside Stewardship options. Alongside this we have engaged over 40 farms in focus groups, working to understand how the models can be used to set objectives and how it might be used to achieve landscape scale collaboration among farmers to benefit pollinators. 

Bee models

At the heart of Farms for AONBees are bee computer models developed by the University of Exeter that can predict the effects of differing land management options and cropping patterns on bee survival and numbers, acting as a virtual ‘safe space’ to test out options, with the aim of increasing bee populations.

The bee models were developed using some really innovative techniques including radar tracking to determine how bees explore landscapes. The bee models, BEESTEWARD for bumblebees and BEHAVE for honeybees won @innovator of the Year 2017 from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Cornwall and South Devon AONB have been trailblazers of these models, first to implement the research and have played a vital part in their development. Although Farms for AONBees is based on bees, this can be used as a biodiversity/ natural capital proxy and could be critical to the delivery of the aims of the 25 year plan for a sustainable future for agriculture.



What’s next

The biggest impact of FarmsforAONBees is yet to come. The project to date provides a template for successful landscape scale partnership working that we can use across our AONB family and we have ambition to grow FarmsforAONBees across the SW and beyond so if you’d like to be part of FarmsforAONBees going forward, please get in touch.