What is Operation Pollinator?
Research work started in the UK 10 years ago as The Buzz Project, and later as Operation Bumblebee. By 2009, 670 farmers had joined the scheme and created over 1000 hectares of this specialized field margin. It was supported by DEFRA, Natural England, Centre for Ecology, Sainsburys, Vitacress, the National Farmers Union and the British Beekeepers Association.
In 2009, Operation Pollinator expanded the UK
project across Europe with the aim of creating 10,000 hectares of dedicated habitat on commercial farms by 2014. Today already 2000 farmers in 13 European countries are participating in the programme, with the US undergoing trials. Operation Pollinator is supported by a wide number of stakeholders: Universities, Governments, NGOs, Farmer Unions and Beekeeper Associations.
How does Operation Pollinator work?
Farmers are provided with special seed mixes - a wildflower or clover mix - to suit their farms and soil types. They also receive advice on how to manage their land to benefit wildlife as well as pollinators, while maintaining their own farming efficiency. Every year, pollinator population numbers are monitored and reported on by an independent scientific auditor. Over time, Operation Pollinator aims to extend the concept of providing and proactively managing dedicated habitats for biodiversity. It has already gone beyond the farm gate to UK golf courses and aims to also go into parks and even motorways!
Why is Operation Pollinator important?
Pollinating insects are crucial for the success of many natural habitats and the production of numerous food crops around the world. In recent years there has been a significant decline in the population of bees and other pollinating insects around the world - some species by dramatic levels. Operation Pollinator aims to help reverse this trend by providing valuable food sources throughout the whole of the insect flying season (i.e. the time that insects spend in the air actively foraging for pollen and nectar). This is especially important as there is usually a lack of pollen and nectar in the second half of the season, as most flowers have already faded and produced seed.
What has been the key to making Operation Pollinator work well?
Cross-European academic partnerships have enabled the seed mixes to be developed for different countries’ needs. In Italy, the project has teamed with the University of Perugia and in Germany a strong partnership with the Institut für Agrarökologie and Biodiversität exists. In the UK, Syngenta has partnered with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Harper Adams University. Syngenta has also worked with 28 Government and Academic bodies, 17 food chain organisations, 11 Non-Government Organisations, 7 Beekeeper associations and a network of 2000 farmers.
What are the results so far?
Through Operation Pollinator’s habitat creation, bumblebee numbers have been seen to increase by up to 600%, butterfly numbers up 12 fold and other insects more than 10 fold within three years. Numbers of birds and small mammals have also increased. A major success of the project has been the return of the rare bumblebee species ‘Bombus ruderatus’, on a Worcestershire farm. This bumblebee has been classified on the verge of extinction, and a key target in the Government’s initiative to protect and resurrect UK farmland biodiversity.
Operation Pollinator has helped growers successfully establish and manage pollen and nectar-rich habitats on less productive areas around the farm. Crop yields are maintained and improved through adoption of these sustainable practices. Operation Pollinator clearly shows that biodiversity conservation and productive agriculture are not only compatible, but mutually beneficial, which is critical for doubling global food production by 2050.