There has been much attention recently on the plight of pollinators globally, and Europe is no exception with wild pollinators in decline, but the BEESPOKE project, led by the GWCT and funded by the EU Interreg programme, North Sea Region, aims to reverse the decline.


The project

  • BEESPOKE (Benefiting Ecosystems through Evaluation of food Supplies for Pollination to Open up Knowledge for End users) brings together 16 project partners from the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Sweden including policy makers, research institutes, advisory bodies and farmer co-operatives.
  • Pilot farms will test out crop specific seed mixes and management methods for 14 crop types across 72 demonstration sites.
  • €4.1 million budget for a period of three and a half years (2019-2023).
  • Of this budget, €2.063 million has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund.

Bumblebee on oilseed rapeAcross the EU, the annual output attributed to insect pollination is valued at €15 billion, and the North Sea Region is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. Here we grow many crops that rely on insect pollination such as top fruit (apples, pears), soft fruit (strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants) and arable crops (oilseed rape, beans), while pollination is also needed when producing the seed of many crops, including forage crops such as clover and lucerne. Pollination affects not only crop yields but also quality.

However, the region has been identified as having a very low pollination potential attributed to the loss of flower-rich habitats, such as meadows, while other habitats such as hedgerows have become degraded. This is also having an impact on the pollination of wild plants. Previous GWCT-supported research showed that hedgerow plants such as hawthorn and blackthorn produced few fruit in the absence of insect pollinators. Pollinator declines therefore have serious implications for the survival of wild plants and also the animals that depend on the resources they provide such as seeds and fruit.

Pollinators can be encouraged through the provision of the appropriate flowering plants in sufficient quantities and with appropriate nesting sites. For example, provision of 2.2% flower-rich habitat per farm, more than doubled the density of bumblebee colonies in the UK. At present the focus of action is on increasing pollinators for their conservation, with less effort on increasing their contribution to crop yields. Crops also differ considerably in the type of pollinators needed because of differences in their flower structures and so the range of plant species needed to support the most appropriate pollinators differs between crops.

With new knowledge generated in recent years on pollinator foraging on different wild plants and crops, we can now start to consider designing seed mixes and managing habitats to provide the types of pollinators needed by each crop type. One of the key aims of the BEESPOKE project is to do this for a range of crops across the North Sea Region. We will test the effectiveness of the mixes for crop pollination by planting flower-rich areas in close proximity to the crops in a network of pilot farms in each participating country. Their impact on crop yields and quality will be measured and costed.

In addition, many farmers will not know whether their crops are suffering from poor pollination, but there is evidence that there are deficiencies. Another key aim of the project will be to develop farmer-friendly methods for assessing pollination and provide training on how to do this.

For those who have tried establishing wildflower habitats this can sometimes be a frustrating business, with poor results. The species that germinate will often depend on local conditions and therefore we will work closely with seed producers to increase the chances that our bespoke seed mixes will deliver what is expected. To improve the success and quality of such habitats, the project will also provide training and advice to ensure optimal habitats are created. Besides sown mixes, other habitats typically found on farmland can also support pollinators, such as hedgerows, woodland and low-input grassland, and so guidelines and training will be produced on the best ways to manage these.

In the BEESPOKE projects our partners are from Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and the organisations involved include advisory bodies, a national agency, seed company, farmer co-operative, research institutes and universities. Each will have pilot farms testing out mixes for a range of 14 horticultural and arable crops, and the project will bring together a wide range of partners. We hope that, by providing such demonstrations on the pilot farms and by working closely with farmers, we can encourage a wider network of farms and other bodies responsible for land management to also establish flower-rich habitats.

BEESPOKE is carried out in the framework of the Interreg North Sea Region Programme under the Programme Priority 3 ‘Sustainable North Sea Region’ and the Specific Objective 3.2 ‘Develop new methods for the long-term sustainable management of North Sea ecosystems’. The programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) of the European Union.

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