We love our insects!
Small but perfectly formed, insects play a pivotal role in any ecosystem, and farming is no exception. From pollinators to recyclers, predators to parasites, there isn't a niche that hasn't been filled by an insect or an invertebrate.
These critically important creatures help us to grow food, control pests and increase soil fertility but so rarely get the credit they deserve. Habitat provision and planting regimes on organic farms are always mindful of this tiny army, and we'll do whatever it takes to help them thrive here.
We have been hosting wildlife projects for years, but our butterfly work started in earnest in 2009 - with a special project to create the right conditions for rare butterflies. It involved planting key flower species to attract some of our rarest butterflies. Devils-Bit Scabious, Kidney and Horseshoe Vetch to name but a few. The rare Small Blue and rarer Adonis Blue have both graced the farm with their presence, and we are delighted that they are breeding here.
The work continues with annual transects organised by the Butterfly Conservation Trust, and we now have years worth of data that shows that wildlife can recover if farmers stop the 'business as usual' approach to farming.
Sustainable, ecological farming, i.e organic farming, proves that food production can go hand in hand with wildlife habitat provision.
You might be surprised to learn that Britain's wild bee populations have declined, and now about a quarter of our wild bee species have seriously dropped in numbers. The Large Garden Bumblebee population in England has dropped 95% since 1960. Luckily we support a population of these rare bees here, along with the Brown Banded Carder- another struggling species.
Huge strips of wildlife mix planted across the farm combine nectar-rich flowers and seed-bearing crops to help invertebrates, bats and birds. Hoverflies and bumblebees love these, and they crowd into our strips of Phacelia and borage flowers, which are rich in nectar. These buzzing beauties are very important pollinators of fruits, vegetables and legume crops such as beans, peas and clover.
We also have bee transects organised by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and work closely with entomologists and a host of other specialists to monitor the life on the farm. This information then feeds back to our farming team who can implement changes or improve farming practices to suit everyone.
Entomology at Sheepdrove
In the last 12 months we have been carrying our insect surveys on the farm, concentrating on pollinators and predators in particular. Martin Harvey, a very knowledgeable and experienced entomologist has been surveying the species we have on the farm. We're trying to gauge if we're planting the right wildflowers and grasses to support wildlife.
The first report came back and although only 6 fields were surveyed over 3 days, 203 species were identified!
More importantly, 4% of the insects surveyed have national conservation status, and two of those rare species were very very rare bumblebees.
This is really exciting stuff (even if you don't like bugs) because it shows that Sheepdrove, and other organic farms carrying out similar practices, are providing a lifeline for Britain's rarest creatures. The survey has been repeated even more comprehensively this year, so we're really excited about seeing the results already. Early indications are that we're home to a great number of really unusual insects.
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