Farm News  |   April 30, 2024

Pollinator News

Entomologist David Notton on the new honey bee colony found at the farm, and the work to support pollinators…

A closeup of a bee on a purple flower amongst herbaceous green

This article is by David Notton, professional entomologist specialising in bees and wasps, who is a regular visitor and volunteer, logging many biological recordings (mainly plants and insects) at Lauriston Farm…

As the weather warms more bees are out and about, including a honey bee colony recently found in the fallen Ash by the Market Garden (video below). Visitors, please keep a safe distance – honey bees are not usually aggressive but will defend their nest!


Video of wild bee colony, by Huw Pennell


The Farm is home to many kinds of pollinator: honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, wasps, flies, beetles, moths and butterflies. They carry pollen between flowers, helping seeds and fruits to set. The Farm needs pollinators for fruit and seed crops – the Seed Kist would be half empty without insect pollination – and also to ensure cross-pollination and genetic health of wild plants. So we’re keeping a close eye on their numbers. Recent surveys have found more than 190 kinds of insect at Lauriston Farm. Butterfly Conservation Trust volunteer Huw Pennell is monitoring trends in bumble bees and butterflies to see how improvements to the Farm are helping, and I have recently starting monitoring moths.

Closeup of a bee covered in pollen, on a purple flower

Carder bumble bee pollinating Knapweed (David Notton)


So what about honey bees? The popular media focuses on honey bees more than other pollinators. However, honey bees are mostly domesticated and are not threatened in the UK, so “saving” them does not help our native pollinators, any more than conserving chickens helps wild bird populations! Worse still, recent studies show large honey bee populations can impact wild bees by competition and spreading disease. At Lauriston Farm, honey bees are already abundant because of the large number of hives in the apiary at Lauriston Castle. Wild colonies would be much more spread out (at less than one colony per square kilometre). This is why I recommend the Farm works to support native, wild pollinators rather than introducing more honey bees.


Closeup of a butterfly with a brown body and orange wings, with brown, yellow and blue pattern

Butterflies are pollinators too – Small tortoiseshell at Creeping thistle (David Notton)


Ongoing Farm projects already embrace a wide range of native pollinators at landscape scale. The farm is growing new hedgerows and leaving wild areas, which will provide more nectar and pollen resources – the messy bits often have most wildflowers! The new trees will also have valuable flowers, especially the orchard trees, and so will the planted wildflower strip (north field) and wildflower mound (by the Community Allotments). Shelter will be enhanced as trees mature, and the farm can create nest/hibernation sites by maintaining standing dead wood, scrub, tussocky grassland and creating bee banks. Of course, they don’t use insecticides as the Farm is organic. Plans for conservation grazing (unfortunately delayed by vigilante fence-cutting) could help to increase botanical diversity in the north field, and the new wildflower nursery has plans to grow and sell wildflowers more widely. Working with nature is definitely the way to go – it’s exciting to see how it will develop.


David Notton

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