Photo credit - Calon Wen, The pasture for pollinators project open day at Cop House Farm, near Chester.

Welsh dairy farmers and bumblebees don’t normally crop up in the same context but a group of organic dairy farmers, who market products under the Calon Wen brand, are hoping to change things.

Concerned by the plight of the humble bumble Calon Wen farmers have sprung into action. 

Six Calon Wen farmers from across Wales are leading a research project “Pasture for Pollinators”, looking at how they can stop, and even reverse the decline of bumblebee populations by managing their pastures a little differently. 

The Project, which is funded through the European Innovation Partnership programme managed by Menter a Busnes, started at the beginning of 2018. 

The farmers are using special seed mixes in their pastures, supplied by Cotswold Seeds, which include a high proportion of pollinator friendly plants. This will be combined with simple grass management techniques during the year. During the silage season the farmers will be leaving a four-metre strip along the field margins uncut to ensure a constant feast of flowers for pollinators. They are also looking at how they can manage other habitats on the farm, such as hedgerows and unimproved pasture. 

“Seeing wildlife on my farm makes my job much more enjoyable, and learning about bumblebees has been fascinating” said David Edge, one of the Calon Wen farmers involved in setting up the Project. 

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust are providing the technical expertise for the project, and are monitoring pollinator populations across all farms. “I am really pleased with how the project is going so far” said Sinead Lynch, Senior Conservation Officer at the Trust. “We are currently still in our initial trial period and we are already observing some very interesting results. We have visited all of the farms, completed surveys and seen that the farmers are incredibly engaged and on board with this project which is great.” 

Anna Hobbs, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust Officer responsible for surveying the farms remarked:

“the results that we have collected during the 2018 trial period are really encouraging. They indicate that leaving these uncut field margins can really help in providing the continuous source of flowers needed for bumblebees and other pollinators to feed from”. 

"The project is also capturing the imagination of the public. Local resident, Mark, from Hawarden in north Wales told us “I believe Calon Wen farmers are doing a marvellous job here. I walk these fields everyday with my dog and since the start of the project I have seen a significant increase in the number of bumblebees and other pollinators around, which shows the project is clearly already a success.” 

Over the next two years the Project team hopes to be able to show that looking after our pollinators is easy and practical, and goes hand in hand with producing quality milk.

EIP Wales, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Populations of bumblebees and other pollinators in the UK are under increasing threat. Of the 270 species of bee recorded in the UK, we have lost 13 species with a further 35 under threat of extinction. 

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust was established in 2006 and is a science led organisation with projects across the UK. The Trust aims to inspire people to help provide the habitat these charismatic insects require across communities and the countryside to ensure that populations have a long-term future in the UK.

The aim of EIP Wales is to solve common agricultural and forestry problems by bringing people from practical and scientific backgrounds together. It’s an opportunity for farmers and foresters to put their ideas into practice by testing new technologies or techniques. 

Calon Wen held an open day on the 9th of October 2018 for farmers, advisors, researchers and members of the public to explain the Project and reflect on progress to date. 

Photo credit - Calon Wen, The pasture for pollinators project open day at Cop House Farm, near Chester.