Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Multiple wetlands and solitary bees

While the main focus of the Water Friendly Farming project is combining improved food production with improved water quality and control, we are also surveying birds and pollinating insects at some sites.  There is increasing evidence that wild bees can increase yields of our main break crops, and our own research at Loddington has revealed similar benefits in terms of fruit production.  Our surveys in the School Farm demonstration catchment at Loddington have illustrated the association of solitary bees with hedges and woodland edges, while bumblebees were recorded mainly in wild bird seed mixtures and grass margins that contained flowering plants.
Wet mud being gathered for nest building                                 © C Stoate

Across a 2,000 ha landscape within the Water Friendly Farming project, we have created a series of field edge wetlands with grass and wild flower mixtures sown on their banks.  We might expect this combination of woody hedgerow habitat with sheltered banks of flowering plants, open water and wet mud, to provide nesting material and sites as well as foraging habitats for many of the pollinating insects that support both naturally occurring and commercially grown plants.  Survey work currently being carried out by Ecologist, John Szczur will reveal to what extent this is the case.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

We are not special

We now have three years of baseline data on aquatic biodiversity and nutrient concentrations from about 250 sites across the three study catchments of the Water Friendly Farming project.  This is an exceptionally high resolution for a landscape scale project and complements the continuous monitoring of water quality at the base of each of the three catchments - an unprecedented combination of data for lowland England.  The number of aquatic plant species is highest in ponds, intermediate in streams and lowest in ditches.  Nutrient concentrations are most variable in ponds which include high quality habitats in small catchments.

Aquatic plant species richness in ditches, streams and ponds
This distribution of aquatic biodiversity in the WFF landscape closely resembles that seen in all other landscape studies so far undertaken in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, by the Freshwater Habitats Trust.  Our 30km2 study area consists of a mixture of arable and livestock farms on Grade 2/3 land.  Farms range in size and are variably owner-occupied, tenanted and farmed under contract farming agreements.  Both in terms of the farm businesses, and in terms of landscape ecology, the area is therefore representative of a large proportion of lowland England.  This ensures that results of the project will have wide application as they emerge over the next few years.