Last week Norfolk FWAG, Campaign for the Farmed Environment and Oakbank Game & Conservation Ltd joined forces at the Raveningham Estate to talk pollinators with local farmers. The event focused on the pollinator hungry gap in early spring.

We kicked off with an informative talk by Elizabeth Ranelagh from FWAG East, who highlighted that it’s not just the honeybee that is important for pollinating your crops, bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies and some species of beetle all play an important role. Elizabeth also emphasised the economic importance pollinators in the UK, with their current value estimated at £691 million per year. However despite their importance, many pollinator species are suffering from population declines. The courses of these declines are believed due to the loss of 97% of our wildflower meadows, diseases and parasites, and pesticides.

With all this knowledge buzzing in our heads we set off on a tour of the estate. We were lucky enough to be shown around by Estate Manager Jake Fiennes, a keen conservationist who has created an outstanding example of HLS across the estate. However it soon became clear despite Jake’s success establishing species rich margins, and incorporating pollen and nectar seed mixes across the farm, these were not yet in flower. The plants typically included in pollen and nectar mixes such as bird’s-foot-trefoil, tufted vetch and red clover tend to flower in May, June and July. This is too late for the hungry queen bumblebee, searching for nectar and pollen to in order to establish her colony.

What was in flower had mainly turned up naturally, red-dead nettle, common field speedwell, ground ivy and primrose where all present in field margins, providing essential resources for hungry pollinators just waking from hibernation. These species can be difficult to incorporate in seed mixes due to their expense, but sympathetic management of margins around the farm will encourage natural colonisation.

Jake points out that it is not always necessary to spend money on expensive seed. Cowslip is another early flower that is good for pollinators, and one Jake has battled to establish in field margins across the estate. He started with just 5 seeds, and by collecting and spreading the seed each year the Estate is now sprinkled with these vibrant yellow flowers.

Another important source of pollen and nectar across the estate was the abundant blackthorn flowers in the hedgerows. Jake cuts his hedgerows around the farm every three years, letting them grow taller with each cut. Cutting less frequently means the species such as blackthorn and hawthorn do not grow as vigorously, this means less work cutting them back and more flowers for bees. Also, cutting only a few hedgerows on the farm each year means the bees will never be without this important spring resource.

If you would like any advice about how to manage your farm for pollinators, please don’t hesitate to contact us via advice@norfolkfwag.co.uk or call us on 01603 814 869.