Beekeeping for crop yield and wildflower pollination
One third of the food we eat, including fruit, vegetables, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and spices, is created with the help of pollinators. Without the service that nature provides, some of that food would become a lot harder to grow and more expensive.
Worryingly, insect pollinator species are in dramatic decline as biodiversity loss around the planet accelerates. Climate change, habitat destruction and degradation due to urbanisation and agriculture, and even light pollution (affecting night-time pollinators), are all having an impact.
What we are doing
To counteract these challenges, forward-thinking farmers are introducing apiaries – collections of beehives – to their fields. At Earth Trust farm, with support from the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association, we are exploring how this strategic integration can offer benefits for both crops and the environment.
In June 2023, members of the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association helped us to introduce two apiaries on Earth Trust farmland: one hive at North Farm, alongside the bean fields, and four hives at Hill Top farm, close to the wildflower meadow, arable fields and cherry trees.
Bees are highly efficient pollinators, increasing the yield and quality of many crops. Studies have shown that fields with abundant bee populations exhibit larger and more uniform fruits. This project will help with crop and wildflower pollination on our farm as well as around the surrounding area.
Increasing Crop Yield
Research indicates that fields with sufficient bee populations can experience up to a 30% increase in crop yield. This boost in productivity has far-reaching implications for food security and agricultural economies.
Apiaries not only support honeybee populations but also encourage the proliferation of native pollinators. This diversity of pollinators contributes to overall ecosystem health and resilience, supporting diversity of wildlife in Oxfordshire.
Providing diverse habitat
On the land that Earth Trust care for and protect, our management techniques ensure that bees, butterflies and other wild pollinators can find plenty of food, nesting and overwintering sites, and good shelter enabling them to travel safely to forage. Our apiaries provide an additional safe haven habitat.
Bee Health Awareness
By closely interacting with bee colonies, farmers and beekeepers can monitor bee health and respond promptly to signs of disease or stress.
Demonstrating and inspiring others
Apiaries offer opportunities for educational programmes, raising awareness about the vital role of pollinators in food systems and ecosystems. Earth Trust will be working with members of Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association to showcase bees and beekeeping to visitors in different ecosystems. Observation hives, which have a clear ‘window’ enabling you to safely get up close and look inside to see all the action, will be installed for special events. Learning about the important role of bees is incorporated in our Earth School education programme.
By co-ordinating our efforts with the UK National Pollinator Strategy and other national initiatives such as BugLife’s B-Lines, we’re committed to making a clear impact and positive difference to pollinator numbers.
By introducing beehives to the local area in this way, we are exploring and demonstrating stacking enterprises, promoting the synergy between honey farms and crops, and how they can work together as a sustainable farming solution to help address food security. We will be moving the hives to different locations around the farm which will benefit the surrounding crops as well as the bees.
Our land management techniques demonstrate to other farmers and land managers what action they can take to improve pollinator numbers, without compromising on essential food production.
In a world where the health of ecosystems and agricultural systems are deeply intertwined, the introduction of apiaries presents a sustainable and mutually beneficial solution. By fostering pollinator populations and enhancing crop yields, apiaries contribute to the resilience of both natural habitats and food production.
As we continue to navigate the challenges of a changing climate and growing food demand, the strategic integration of apiaries into agricultural landscapes stands as a testament to our ability to work with nature for the greater good.