Arla farmers join forces to increase UK bee populations

David Christensen

A group of farmers from the Arla Foods dairy co-operative have launched a trial initiative to help increase wild bee populations given the crucial role they play in supporting our ecosystems.

The news follows the recent UN report which revealed 1 million animal species are at risk of extinction globally. Of these, some bees have been in steady decline, with an average of 11 species lost in every square kilometre in the UK between 1980 and 2013.

Forming part of the dairy co-operative’s farm standards programme Arla UK 360, Project Pollinator will see a trial of five farmers across the country cultivate, seed and farm an area of land to create the best possible habitat for a variety of insects, which are crucial in pollinating many of the crops we all rely on. The focus of the trial will be to explore whether selecting and cultivating flowers specially for bees and farming the wildlife can help change the declining numbers of bees.

Marek Nowakowski of the Wildlife Farming Company, who is helping the Arla farmers with the trial, said: “Habitat quality and variety are the key to increasing biodiversity so this trial, treating wildlife as a crop and farming it so it grows by design, could have significant impact on the efficiency of the land in supporting the types of bees that are our greatest pollinators.

“Our growing population requires increasing amounts of land space for housing, infrastructure and food production but this can’t be done at the expense of the world around us, we need to give wildlife a helping hand.”

The seed mix has been specially selected to attract and sustain multiple bee species and other wildlife, with two dozen wildflower and grass species sown and cultivated across half a hectare of land on each farm, (equivalent to 184 average UK back gardens).

With over 2,400 UK dairy farmers in the Arla dairy co-operative and 10,300 across Europe, if the trial proves successful, the scope for scale up could prove significant for bees.

Graham Wilkinson, agriculture director for Arla Foods UK said: “Having announced our ambition to be a carbon net zero company by 2050, we’re focusing our attention on creating tangible initiatives to achieve this. As well as addressing greenhouse gas emissions, our ambition stretches further to address biodiversity on farms.

“The world’s natural systems are more intertwined than we might realise but it’s a daily consideration for Arla’s farmer owners. A key part of the Arla UK 360 programme is focused on researching and developing opportunities to continue to create a supply chain that works for everyone; the environment, the cows, the farmer, the retailer and the consumer. Our R&D projects will prove a vital way to explore potential new thinking for dairy farming.”

David Christensen, an Arla farmer owner based in Oxfordshire, stated: “As Arla farmers, we commit ourselves to the highest standards, which includes caring for our land as well as our animals. We can’t wait to see the results of this project on our farms.”

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