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Organic is best for the bees

ORGANIC FARMING must be made a key feature of a new UK government strategy to protect bees and other pollinators.

The Soil Association has welcomed the goal in the UK government's Proposed National Pollinator Strategy to halt and reverse the decline in beneficial insects - but insists that it must go further.

Studies have shown the decline in bees and other pollinators is already hitting crops like field bean, apple and strawberry. The European Union has temporarily suspended the use of three neonicotinoid insecticides but the Soil Association has said this will not be enough to halt decline of wild pollinators, or remove the risk to honey bees.

SA has said the government strategy does not go far enough in advocating more 'Integrated Pest Management'. The charity has argued that because there is no agreed definition of IPM, it can encompass a huge range of management practices - from conventional farming to organic - and therefore may not benefit pollinators.

SA policy director Peter Melchett said: "Our pollinators are vital and so we are calling on Defra to make clear that their preferred European definition of IPM does also refer to organic farming, and to drop their claim that there is scientific evidence that IPM could help bees, when none in fact exists.

"Indeed, if most current UK farming is correctly classified as IPM, as the National Farmers' Union and most supermarkets say, then the evidence shows that it is definitely not beneficial for pollinators, as these have either continued to decline, or at least not recovered, after many years of IPM farming in the UK."

An SRUC researcher is also currently studying how to increase pollinators in commercial orchards as a response to the global decline in insect pollinators.

The postgraduate research by PhD student Angela Lloyd will collate data from across the UK, studying how pollinators can improve the yield and quality of fruits such as apples, pears and cherries. This work will help develop guidance aimed at maintaining and increasing pollinators in the UK.

Ms Lloyd said: "Insect pollination is essential for the fruit growing industry; it improves both the yield and the quality of the fruit; arresting the decline of insect pollinators is therefore vital to ensure this industry can survive. The ultimate aim of this work is to come up with practical guidance on maintaining or increasing pollinator diversity and abundance in and around orchards."

The research will investigate the factors that could be responsible for declining numbers of fruit pollinators such as agricultural intensification, orchard management and agro-chemical use. It will then consider how pollinators influence fruit yield and quality and evaluate which fruits are most threatened by pollinator declines.

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