Does agri-environment scheme participation in England increase pollinator populations and crop pollination services?
A national-scale evaluation of the effectiveness of agri-environmental schemes on pollinator services.
Agri-environment schemes are programmes where landholders enter into voluntary agreements (typically with governments) to manage agricultural land for environmental protection and nature conservation objectives. Previous work at local scale has shown that these features can provide additional floral and nesting resources to support wild pollinators, which may indirectly increase floral visitation to nearby crops. However, the effect of entire schemes on this important ecosystem service has never previously been studied at national scale. Focusing on four wild pollinator guilds (ground-nesting bumblebees, tree-nesting bumblebees, ground-nesting solitary bees, and cavity-nesting solitary bees), we used a state-of-the-art, process-based spatial model to examine then relationship between participation in agri-environment schemes across England during 2016 and the predicted abundances of these guilds and their visitation rates to four pollinator dependent crops (oilseed rape, field beans, orchard fruit and strawberries). Our modelling predicts that significant increases in national populations of ground-nesting bumblebees and ground-nesting solitary bees have occurred in response to the schemes. Lack of significant population increases for other guilds likely reflects specialist nesting resource requirements not well catered for in schemes. We do not predict statistically significant increases in visitation to pollinator-dependent crops at national level as a result of scheme interventions but do predict some localised areas of significant increase in bumblebee visitation to crops flowering in late spring. Lack of any significant change in visitation to crops which flower outside this season is likely due to a combination of low provision of nesting resource relative to floral resource by scheme interventions and low overall participation in more intensively farmed landscapes. We recommend future schemes place greater importance on nesting resource provision alongside floral resource provision, better cater for the needs of specialised species and promote more contiguous patches of semi natural habitat to better support solitary bee visitation.
Author(s): Image, M., Gardner, E., Clough, Y., Smith, H. G., Baldock, K. C. R., Campbell, A., Garratt, M., Gillespie, M. A. K., Kunin, W.E., McKerchar, M., Memmott, J., Potts, S. G., Senapathi, D., Stone, G. N., Wackers, F., Westbury, D. B., Wilbury, A., Oliver, T. H. & Breeze, T. D.
Journal: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment