Wildflower meadow

Farming for bees

Discover how farmers can help bees and other pollinating insects thrive on farmland, including providing food, shelter and cutting pesticide use.
  03 Oct 2017    |      4 min

What is bee-friendly farming?

Bee-friendly farming means providing bees with what they need, and reducing the threats to their populations. This includes:

  • Providing food (nectar and pollen-rich plants);
  • Providing shelter and nesting sites across the whole farmed landscape;
  • Avoiding bee-harming pesticides.

For a bee, the changes in our countryside over recent decades have been massive. 97% of our wildflower meadows – once prime pollinator habitat – have disappeared since the 1930s. So bees and other pollinators are increasingly reliant on flowering crops and the wildflower mixes planted by farmers.

How can farmers provide food and shelter for bees?

These are some of the measures that bee-friendly farmers are already taking to help bees and other pollinating insects.

  • Creating flower-rich margins and other habitats to provide patches of wildflowers across the farm. These margins can act as a buffer alongside hedgerows, ditches and existing wildflower-rich grasslands and woodland, and provide a transition from farmed land to natural habitat

  • Planting pollen and nectar mixes to provide food during ‘hungry’ periods in early spring, and later summer and autumn.

  • Managing hedgerows on a two or three year rotation to ensure that there are always some hedgerows left uncut, and providing abundant hedgerow flowers every year.

Buglife provides more detailed advice for farmers including how to ensure bees have sheltering and nesting places on the farm.

Ladybird on a blade of wheat
Ladybirds act as a natural predator of aphids
Credit: izzzy71

Avoiding bee-harming pesticides on the farm

Bee-friendly farmers are challenging the current reliance on pesticides as an insurance measure against insects, weeds, and disease. Instead they are working with nature to build healthy soils and populations of natural predators and pollinators that improve the whole farm environment as well as crops.

Some insecticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) have been identified as posing a particular threat to bees, but other insecticides and pesticides can also cause problems, for example some herbicides (broad spectrum) kill the plants that bees like to feed on.

In April, countries across the EU, including the UK, voted in favour of a ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids on all outdoor crops.

This is a huge step in the right direction but there is still plenty more that needs to be done. We need to ensure there is a clear plan to reduce overall pesticide use in the government's new policy for farming after Brexit, and make the countryside a safer place for wildlife.

There are already some fantastic farmers that are ahead of the game. They are adopting innovative ways of growing crops that don’t harm bees.

Bumblebee on cornflower
Cornflowers are a great source of nectar and pollen for bees
Credit: Alan Palmer

Effective alternatives to pesticides

UK farmers are using tried and tested methods of pest control on their crops, as well as trying out some new ideas including:

  • encouraging natural predators that will eat pests;

  • introducing companion crops to confuse pests and improve fertility;

  • sowing oilseed rape early to give it a head-start before pests appear;

  • using disease-resistant crop varieties where they are available;
  • improving monitoring of pests so that pesticides are only used when needed (instead of using treated seed as an insurance measure against future problems)
  • leaving a longer gap (rotation) between sowings of the same crop, to reduce pests and disease.

Resources for farmers

Find out more about farming wheat without neonicotinoids and farming oilseed rape without neonicotinoids.