Action Synopsis: Bee Conservation About Actions

Sow uncropped arable field margins with an agricultural nectar and pollen mix

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

Five replicated trials in Europe (three controlled) have documented bumblebees foraging on field margins sown with an agricultural nectar and pollen seed mix. Four replicated trials showed that field margins sown with perennial leguminous flowering plants attract significantly more foraging bumblebees than naturally regenerated (two trials), grassy (four trials) or cropped (three trials) field margins. Three replicated trials showed that a mix of agricultural forage plants including legumes (all annual plants in one trial) attracts greater numbers of bumblebees than a perennial wildflower mix, at least in the first year.

Three trials in the UK found evidence that margins sown with agricultural legume plants degrade in their value to bumblebees and would need to be re-sown every few years.

We have captured no evidence on the effects of field margin management on solitary bees.


About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. In a replicated trial (five plots) of field margin seed mixtures on a farm in North Yorkshire, Carvell et al. (2006) found that short-tongued bumblebees (B. terrestris, B. lucorum and B. pratorum) strongly preferred plots of annually sown cover crops including borage Borago officinalis and common melilot Melilotus officinalis over perennial wildflower seed mix. Total bumblebee abundance was higher on the annual agricultural nectar mix. On average 70% of pollen collected by buff-tailed bumblebee workers B. terrestris sampled in this study was from borage.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. In a replicated controlled trial in thirty-two 10 km grid squares across England (Pywell et al. 2006), there were significantly more bumblebee species and more individuals on field margins sown 1-2 years previously with a pollen and nectar mix (average >3 species and 86 bees/transect) than on grassy margins (average 1.3-1.4 species and 6-8 bees/transect) or cropped margins (average 0.1 species and 0.2 bees/transect). There were more bumblebee individuals, but not more bumblebee species on pollen and nectar mix margins (average 86 bees/transect) than on wildflower-sown margins (43 bees/transect). The abundance of long-tongued bumblebees (mostly common carder bee B. pascuorum and garden bumblebee B. hortorum) was positively correlated with the number of pollen and nectar-mix agreements in each 10 km square.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. In a replicated controlled trial at six sites across central and eastern England, Carvell et al. (2007) found that 6 m margins of cereal fields sown with a nectar flower mixture supported significantly more foraging bumblebees (species and individuals) than cropped, grassy or naturally regenerated unsown field margins. Visitors included the nationally rare long-tongued species Bombus ruderatus and B. muscorum.

    The nectar flower seed mixture was based on four agricultural legumes (red clover, Alsike clover Trifolium hybridum, bird's-foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus and sainfoin Onobrychis viciifolia). Unlike a wild flower seed mixture in the same study, it supported more bumblebees than other treatments from the first year of the study. However, relative to a wild flower mixture, this mixture provided low numbers of flowers in May and June, when bumblebee queens of late-emerging species are foraging. It also showed a decline in flower numbers in year three, when it did not support significantly more bumblebees than the wild flower seed mixtures.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. In a replicated, controlled study (2005-2008), across 41 farms in England and Scotland, the average number of worker bumblebees was greater on margins where legume-rich seed mix was established than on other field margins (grassy margins or track edges; Edwards 2008). No formal statistical analysis were performed on these data. There was an observed decline in the relative number of foraging worker bumblebees on these margins after they had been established for more than three years (data from five farms).

    Study and other actions tested
  5. Arable margins sown with legume-grass seed mix had higher species richness of bumblebee forage plants (almost 100% cover of Alsike clover and red clover one year after establishment) over four years, compared to naturally regenerated margins on farmland at Romney Marsh, Kent, England (Gardiner et al. 2008). Bee visits were not reported in this study. Fixed-time transect walks in the clover margins are reported elsewhere (Edwards & Williams 2004) to have demonstrated a 300-fold increase in bumblebee forager numbers in the margins planted with clover, but unfortunately, no control count was carried out for comparison. However, the clover-sown plots were invaded by perennial grasses in the third and fourth years of this study, and flower numbers fell substantially.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Dicks, L.V., Showler, D.A. & Sutherland, W.J. (2010) Bee conservation: evidence for the effects of interventions. Pelagic Publishing, Exeter, UK


Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Bee Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Bee Conservation
What Works 2021 cover

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read the latest volume: Volume 21

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape ProgrammeRed List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Mauritian Wildlife Supporting Conservation Leaders
Sustainability Dashboard National Biodiversity Network Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Bat Conservation InternationalPeople trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust