Pollinator monitoring more than Pays for Itself

In their latest research, Breeze and colleagues evaluate the costs of running pollinator monitoring schemes against the economic benefits to research and the society that they provide

Take a look at the accompanying infographic here

Bees, hoverflies and other insects provide vital pollination services to crops and wild plants throughout the UK.

There is a lot of information demonstrating that these insects are declining but this only tells us if a species has disappeared from all or part of its range – we do not know if populations are stable or if they are at risk due to changes in their abundance.  

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A hornet mimic hoverfly and a while tailed bumblebee

Regular monitoring of pollinators could help overcome this and help target conservation and management in a way that protects rare species and crop pollination. Unfortunately, resources for conservation, including monitoring, are often limited by costs and the costs of monitoring biodiversity are rarely considered alongside the benefits it can provide

Designing a scheme

Our study addressed this by designing four different schemes which were developed between scientists, wildlife conservation groups and policymakers. The schemes varied in levels of professional or volunteer involvement and were designed to detect changes as small as 3% of the total population a year over 10 years..

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Volunteers conducting Flower-Insect Timed Counts to record the numbers of pollinators visiting flowers. Photo: Catherine Jones

We used our own data and data from the recently initiated UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme to estimate the costs of running each scheme over 10 years – covering every cost from the price of petrol for transport to people’s salaries.

Exploring the benefits

Without pollinators, yields of some crops fall significantly, causing potentially major losses to farmers. We estimated these impacts by using data from published studies and used economic modelling to estimate the impact on growers. As a complete loss of all pollinators is unlikely, we assumed that up to a maximum of 30% of pollination could potentially be lost.

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Andrena nitida, solitary bee, on dandelion. Photo: Nadine Mitschunas

To estimate the benefits to science, we worked with stakeholders to create a list of eight key pollinator research questions and then surveyed 24 pollinator experts from across Europe.

Based on their responses, we calculated the cost of answering each of the research questions in separate projects and compared the costs of each monitoring scheme to the total costs of running all the research projects that required smaller networks.

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An improperly pollinated strawberry is tiny and warped.

Results

The schemes we designed were estimated to cost between £6,000/year for a 75-site volunteer-led focal flower observation scheme and £2.7M/year for an 800-site professional pollination service monitoring network.

The fully professional scheme would cost £0.9M a year to collect species-level pollinator data on wild bees and hoverflies and additional information on habitats and flower visits to group level.

Compared with these costs, 30% of the value that pollinators provide to crops was estimated at £188.7M, 70 times the costs of running even the most expensive monitoring scheme.

As this single network saves substantial administrative and management costs, even the most expensive schemes will save the UK science budget at least £1.5 per £1 invested. However, we should stress that we only covered eight of the biggest research questions, in reality hundreds of research projects could make use of this data, resulting in even greater added value.

Moving forward

Our work demonstrates that pollinator monitoring represents considerable value for money. Although professionally led monitoring schemes can deliver the best quality data and remain cost-effective, they miss an opportunity to engage other people with pollinator conservation.

This kind of public engagement has been demonstrated to improve public understanding and engagement in conservation overall. As a result, an ideal scheme would involve collaboration between professionals and volunteers to get the best of both world while still being cost-efficient.

Read the full article, Pollinator monitoring more than pays for itself, in Journal of Applied Ecology

Get involved

If you would like to get involved in pollinator monitoring or biological recording, you can visit the following websites:

UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: (UK CEH’s volunteer pollinator monitoring scheme, no experience required)

Bumblebee Conservation Trust: (a charity dedicated to monitoring and protecting the UKs 25 bumblebee species)

Buglife (a charity dedicated to protecting invertebrates across the UK trough on the ground conservation action)

Butterfly Conservation (a charity dedicated to protecting the UKs butterflies with a long history of monitoring these beautiful insects)

Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (for those interested in learning more about the hundreds of species of bees, wasps and ants in the UK and taking part in biological recording of these amazing insects)

Hoverfly Recording Scheme (for those interested in learning about hoverflies and taking part in biological recording of these unsung pollinators)

RSPB (The RSPB is one of the UKs largest conservation charities, dedicated to giving a home to nature from birds to bees)

 

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