Sustainable Management of Orchard Pollination Services (SMOOPS)



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Project overview

Insect pollinators provide a vital ecosystem service supporting crop pollination and reproduction in wild plants. Reported declines in pollinators threaten this service and could have serious implications for food security. Apples are an important component of the UK horticultural industry and provide high value nutritious locally produced food. Insect pollinators contribute more than £92M p.a. to UK apple production and the majority of this pollination is provided by wild insects, particularly solitary ground nesting bees. However, “pollination gaps” of more £5000/ha have been identified in some varieties where desired yields and quality are not being achieved due to inadequate pollination. This presents a major opportunity for growers for increased production and profit through better pollination. The documented decline of pollinating insects also poses a significant risk to fruit production by negatively impacting on crop production. In response, top fruit growers have articulated the need to effectively manage pollination services by wild insects in a way that is cost effective in order to maintain production and quality in the face of continued environmental change.

Our project brings together a team of industry and academic partners to address this research challenge. We are designing and testing three pollinator management strategies in field scale trials in commercial apple orchards. These include establishing flower rich strips to provide food and shelter for pollinators, providing nesting habitat for ground nesting bees, and adapting the number and placement of ‘polliniser’ trees in orchards to optimise pollination. We aim to deliver cost effective orchard management advice that will help support populations of wild pollinators and promote stable and resilient UK apple production into the future.

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Our project will develop high quality science to understand how intervention strategies targeted at these three areas can support sustainable crop production. Our overarching aim is to understand the mechanistic basis of how these three resources, individually and in combination, affect pollinator populations and the value of pollination service. The costs and benefits of these approaches will be assessed so that we can “engineer” the most effective in-orchard interventions providing proven economic returns to growers by supporting long-term stable pollination of apple orchards.



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