How many pollinators visit your farm – and why are they important?

Brown-banded Carder Bumblebee at Sheepdrove Farm (c) Martin Harvey
Brown-banded Carder Bumblebee at Sheepdrove Farm (c) Martin Harvey

Catherine Jones from Farm Wildlife highlights why pollinating insects are so important for farming and wildlife on farmland, and recommends a quick and simple method for monitoring them.

In the UK, wild bees, hoverflies, and other pollinating insects provide free pollination of crops increasing yields, enhancing seed set and improving the quality of many crops from OSR, field beans and orchard fruits (such as apples and pears) to soft fruits (such as strawberries and raspberries).

About 80% of wild flowering plants are also pollinated by insects, sustaining the trees, hedgerows and wild flowers that provide food and shelter for wildlife in the farmed landscape.

In return, these insects are fed by the nectar and pollen provided by our crops and wild flowering plants across farmland, and rely on hedgerows and woodland areas to provide nesting and hibernation sites.

How many pollinators visit your farm?

How many pollinating insects are there on your farm and how can you monitor them? This is not an easy question to answer, but the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) has recently begun using standard approaches to gather new data on pollinator numbers across the UK. The Flower-Insect Timed Count (or FIT Count) provides a quick and simple method for monitoring pollinators visiting the flowers on your farm – and the data submitted contributes to the National (UK) dataset.

Hoverfly on Scabious (c) Martin Harvey
Hoverfly on Scabious (c) Martin Harvey
Volunteers monitoring pollinators using FIT Counts at Hope Farm (c) Georgie Bray
Volunteers monitoring pollinators using FIT Counts at Hope Farm (c) Georgie Bray

Completing a FIT Count:

FIT Counts only take about 10–15 minutes, during which you are asked to count every insect that lands on the flowers of your chosen target flower species.

You can complete a FIT Count anytime between 1 April and 30 September when the weather is dry and the temperature at least 13°C in sunny conditions, or at least 15°C when cloudy.

  • Download a recording form and any guidance documents, or the FIT Count app, from the links below.
  • Choose just one type of flower as your ‘target flower species’ - where possible use one of the FIT Count target flowers, but if you can't find one from the list you can choose a different flower as the target.
  • Mark out a 50cm by 50cm patch containing - string or ‘baler twine’ are perfect for this.
  • Set a timer for ten minutes, and count all insects that land on the target flowers (ignore other flowers, and do your best to count each individual insect once only!).
  • Identify the insects into broad groups (bumblebees, hoverflies etc.) – any that you don't recognise should be counted as "other insects".
  • Count the number of individual flowers for your target species that are within your patch and fill in some simple weather details.
  • Don't forget to send in your results.

FIT Counts can be done anywhere – and wildlife friendly farms are great places to see insects. Pollinators are so vital for food and farming, so why not complete a FIT Count to monitor the insect pollinators on your farm?

Further information:

You can download the full instructions from UK PoMS website – or why not download the FIT Count App?

The PoMS website also includes:

  • A flower guide with information on the flowers to choose – from dandelions and hawthorn in spring to bramble, knapweeds, ragworts, thistles and ivy later in the year.
  • An insect guide to help you to identify the insect groups
  • Videos on ‘How to complete a FIT Count’ and ‘FIT Count insect groups’

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