Reversing the decline in pollinating insects

Insects play an essential role in pollinating many of our food crops. However, they have been in decline in recent years due to the destruction of semi-natural habitats, disease, and pesticide use. A greater understanding of the environmental impacts on insect abundance and diversity will allow us to make recommendations on how to manage agricultural land more sustainably to reverse this decline.

Insects are essential in our agricultural landscape and mixed models were used to examine environmental and management effects in various studies carried out by SRUC.

BioSS Role

BioSS collaborated with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to investigate the factors driving pollinator populations. The investigation was based on pollinator data collected over a range of habitats and time periods. We used mixed models to account for the complexity of the data, allowing us to determine the key drivers of pollinator populations. For example, modelling showed how the relative value of semi-natural habitats in providing floral resources changed throughout the season. Pollinators appear to respond to changes in key floral resources, dynamically using different semi-natural habitats to meet their requirements. The knowledge gained from this work will help shape future pollinator conservation and agri-environmental initiatives.

Future developments

With agriculture relying on many biodiversity-dependant ecosystem services, increasing food production whilst protecting biodiversity is a key challenge to farming globally. Studies like ours provide the basis to explore how land use change (e.g. via policy interventions) influences insect pollinators and food production. Models that integrate biodiversity and production data can contribute to the achievement of sustainable intensification goals.


Common Carder on Knapweed


This work was done in collaboration with Lorna Cole (SRUC) and was funded under the Scottish Government's Strategic Research Programme for environment, agriculture and food.


Cole, L., Brocklehurst, S., Robertson, D., Harrison, W. and McCracken, D. (2017). Exploring the interactions between resource availability and the utilisation of semi-natural habitats by insect pollinators in an intensive agricultural landscape. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 246, 157-167. Elsevier.

Cole, L., Brocklehurst, S., Robertson, D., Harrison, W. and McCracken, D. (2015). Riparian buffer strips: Their role in the conservation of insect pollinators in intensive grassland systems. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 211, 207-220. Wiley.

Cole, L., Brocklehurst, S., McCracken, D., Harrison, W. and Robertson, D. (2012). Riparian field margins: Their potential to enhance biodiversity in intensively managed grasslands. Insect Conservation and Diversity 5(1), 86-94.

Cole, L., Brocklehurst, S., Elston, D.A. and McCracken, D. (2012). Riparian field margins: Can they enhance the functional structure of ground beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) assemblages in intensively managed grassland landscapes? Journal of Applied Ecology 49(6), 1384-1395.

Sarah is shown smiling against a brown background

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