Bees under the spotlight in five-year pollination survey

Bees have come under the scientific spotlight to help growers try to deal with one of the biggest possible threats to future fruit yields.

A project across 10 orchards in Kent, partly funded by Defra, aims to shed light on the decline in honeybees and bumblebees and look at alternative potential pollinators such as moths.

The five-year study is being done by Reading University. Nigel Jenner, technical director for Norman Collett, which is working with the scientists, said: "There's lots of publicity on the decline of the honeybee but in commercial orchards we have not seen yields decline.

"In some cases they are going up. We want to evaluate the honeybee and look at what other insects are pollinating our crops." He said his team believed insects such as moths and hoverflies contributed to pollination.

The study aims to establish more details in order to encourage insects that "did the bulk of the work" into orchards.

The results are being evaluated by Reading University's Dr Mike Garrett.

Jenner said possible changes could include replacing grass strips between trees with wild flowers to attract insects.

"We did work on a red mason bee that revealed that by managing pollination we could increase levels of calcium - a crucial element - in Bramley apples by 25 per cent. Just introducing bees gave us that kind of percentage increase.

"We also noticed increases in other nutrients and the synchronicity of the crop was much better: ripening, colour and size were more uniform and the shape was better.

"Improved synchronicity means more fruit in the first pick and better produce. You may be getting 95 per cent class 1 instead of 90 per cent and profitability is all about getting that little bit extra."

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