Suffolk pig farmers feed over a million bees in wildlife project

The farmers at Dingley Dell Pork, in Suffolk, succeeded in feeding over a million bees after handing over half their land to a pollinator project.

Four years ago, brothers Mark and Paul Hayward decided to use their farm for the good of wildlife.

Planting 33 hectares (81 acres) of nectar-rich wildflowers around the pig site at Dingley Dell Pork, their farm in Suffolk was to embrace a sustainable way of farming.

Last week, in a count led by his daughter Grace, Mark monitored how many bees were feeding at the farm near Woodbridge, Suffolk, as part of the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme.

The pair marked out square metre patches of land using a quadrat and monitored the bees at different locations across the farm feeding over a one minute period.

These figures were then multiplied by the landspace for each type of flower mix to give an estimate of the total number of insects feeding.

They soon realised they had achieved their long awaited target of feeding a million bees – it was estimated their rich wildflowers were feeding 1,186,300 bees at any one time.

“We looked at our farm and asked what [was] our definition of sustainability? We decided that first of all, in the context of the areas that we farm, we wanted to rebuild the ecosystem,” Mark told Oh My Goodness.

Mark Hayward (left) with brother Paul, handed over half their land to a pollinator project. (Mark Hayward)

Mark said that in order to do so they needed more insects and by producing nectar, it would in turn attract a diverse range of species across the farm.

The farmers planted a seed mix of phacelia, sainfoin, bird’s-foot trefoil, alsike clover, musk mallow, campion and vetch.

They always planted enough to reach the million target and were passionate about doing so after seeing the vast decline in bumblebee numbers.

Two species of bumblebee have been declared extinct in the last century, with a further eight listed under conservation priority.

Dingley Dell Pork has helped to feed more than a million bees at any one time. (Mark Hayward)

One of the main reasons for decline is habitat loss, which The Bumblebee Conservation Trust say contributed to up to 70% loss in some species.

“Farming has changed and fields are full of wheat and you don’t have small farms that would have corners of the field full of flowers, so bumblebees’ biggest issue is the lack of available food,” Mark said.

The team carried out counts in different flower mixes with a high of 19 bees counted in the phacelia.

Mark’s daughter Grace, 18, who also runs the newly-launched Dingley Dell Cured, a branch of the business selling charcuterie, said she was “immensely proud” of what Dingley Dell had achieved.

The farm developed a rotational system for its pork production which allows it to grow both grass and wildflower mixes.

Mark and Paul raise pigs for the restaurant trade at Dingley Dell Pork. (Mark Hayward)

Gill Perkins, CEO of The Bumblebee Conservation Trust said: “The figure can take a bit of finessing but even allowing for some extrapolating, the studies show that Dingley Dell is feeding at least one million bees at any one time.

“Nobody has done anything of this scale before and the point that should be made here is how committed Mark and Paul are to ensuring that their farm is pollinator friendly.”

Mark highlighted a problem called the “June gap”, a period where bees have not had enough food so have ultimately starved.

With the farm providing lots of flowers during the summer months, they have helped to “fill the gap”.

The Hayward’s amazing project does not stop there, however.

The team have plans to work with a Cambridge PhD student in building suitable nesting sites across the farm.

“[The student] is going to build [a hundred] bumblebee nest boxes and we’re going to plant them strategically around the farm and see if [the bees] use them, and whether there’s merit in actually providing safe places for the Queen’s to go,” Mark added.

“It’s about how do we farm that area. For wildlife it has to be a year on year improvement in species to show that what we’re doing is working.”

You can learn more about Dingley Dell farm and their amazing project on their website.

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