Lancaster University

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Native British Bumblebees now available to UK fruit farmers

04/20/2010 11:47:38

British bumblebee
British bumblebee

Native British bumblebees have been made available to soft fruit growers for the first time thanks to the efforts of a team led by a Lancaster University Professor.

Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and many cultivated crops.

To guarantee high yields and high quality crops, commercially reared bumblebees are now an integral part of modern, sustainable agriculture. In crops like glasshouse tomatoes they have replaced the use of physical pollination or chemicals previously widely used to induce fruit development.

But until now only the European Cousin of the UK Bumblebee has been commercially available to fruit growers.

And as a non native species their use has been restricted to glasshouse cultures and tunnels due to concerns they may harm native bumblebee populations when used in the open field.

But now Belgium company Biobest has been successful in rearing the native British bumblebees (Bombus terrestris audax). The native bumblebee will be available to outdoor fruit growers from Kent-based BCP Certis, as well as through Biobest’s UK distributor Agralan.

Professor Wäckers, Director of Research and Development at Biobest, is based part time in the Lancaster Environment Centre.

He said: “Bumblebees are especially effective pollinators. They produce their own heat, which in combination with their furry coats enables them to fly early in the season when it is still far too cold for honey bees and other insects. They also differ from honey bees in that they ‘buzz’ or shake the flower to collect pollen, which makes them especially effective in assuring pollination.

“In field crops, like strawberries, raspberries and currants, UK growers have until now been unable to share in the many benefits these pollinators offer. This puts them at a major disadvantage relative to their foreign counterparts.

“We reared the UK species to meet the demand from soft fruit growers and conservation bodies. It’s a native species so now farmers and growers can use these top pollinators on crops grown in the open field.”