The importance of adequate insect pollination in apple crops has been confirmed by latest research that suggests low pollinator numbers could be costing the UK industry millions of pounds in lost revenue.
The study, led by Dr Mike Garratt of the University of Reading, valued the annual contribution of insects to two of Britain's most popular home-grown varieties, Cox and Gala, at nearly £37m.
The research was carried out on six Cox and Gala orchards in Kent. Some trees at each site were covered with a PVC mesh to exclude pollinating insects. Trees that were left open to pollinators not only gave higher yields but also a larger proportion of class 1 fruit.
For comparison, some trees were pollinated by hand to simulate insects pollinating the trees to their full potential. If such maximal pollination were replicated across the UK crop, the extra quantity and quality of Gala apples alone would be worth almost £6m a year, the researchers estimated.
"To maximise the quantity and quality of apples we'd need to increase both the abundance and diversity of pollinating insects," said Garratt. "That way, when you get a particularly bad season for one pollinator species, there's a healthy stock of other insects to do the work."
The open-access article is published in Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. The team is currently carrying out a similar analysis on two other leading varieties, Bramley and Braeburn.
Dr Garratt's tips to promote wild pollinators include:
- Plant wild flower strips.
- Retain hedgerows.
- Keep an understory layer below the trees.
"At the landscape level, what the insects really need are more native grasslands and woodlands," added Garratt.