Optimising multifunctional land-use decisions through robust combined models:

What combination of agri-environment interventions maximises benefits to pollinators, crop productivity and people?

Land-use decisions on farmland affect many benefits. In order to make the most efficient use of our farmland, we must find land-use choices that balance and optimise these multiple benefits.

In our project, we study the benefits provided by pollinator-relevant agri-environment interventions, such as hedgerows, flower-rich margins and woodland creation. These not only provide biodiversity benefits by supporting pollinator populations, but also economic benefits through increased crop pollination, and social aesthetic benefits, by adding floral and structural features to the landscape and so changing the way farmland looks.

A selection of pollinator-relevant agri-environment interventions. Photographs © James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster, Maigheach-gheal, Ian Calderwood. 

Models to Capture Multiple Benefits

We combine state-of-the-art ecological, economic and social value models to quantify the landscape-level benefits provided by pollinator-relevant interventions:

  • Our process-based ecological model simulates the foraging behaviour of bees and has been validated against observational data collected at 259 sites across Great Britain. It allows us to predict how many bees a landscape would support, as well as the level of pollination service these bees provide to wild plants and to crops.
  • Our economic model estimates farm income given this level of pollination service. It uses relationships between yield and pollination service derived by the Global Food Security funded project ‘Resilient Pollinators’ from field data collected across the UK.
  • Finally, our social value model quantifies the aesthetic benefits provided by the landscape using public preferences obtained by the ‘Resilient Pollinators’ social science team from an online survey of over 1000 respondents.
Our combined model framework, linking ecological, economic and social value models to assess the multiple benefits of pollinator-relevant agri-environment interventions. Photograph © Maurice Pullin.

Real-World Application

We are using our combined model to identify recommended proportions of agri-environment interventions and the optimum spatial scale over which these proportions should be applied to maximise benefits in different landscapes.

By virtually adding different combinations of agri-environment interventions to three contrasting case study landscapes, we can use our combined model to assess the resulting benefits and identify which combination of interventions maximises benefits to pollinators and people.

Wide grassy field margins benefit people and pollinators and this can in turn increase the yield of nearby pollinator-dependent crops. Photograph © John Brightley.

Informing Land-use Decision Making

The project results can help farmers identify the most effective interventions for their land, based on their regional location and current land-use intensity.

We are currently working in consultation with Defra to ensure that we test interventions relevant to Defra’s new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) so that the project results can potentially inform regional targeting of pollinator interventions within ELMS.

Principle Investigator Emma Gardner introduces the project in this short video
The project team is based at the University of Reading and comprises an interdisciplinary group of researchers, combining physical science expertise in building complex spatially-explicit time-dependent computer models (Dr Emma Gardner) with backgrounds in applied ecology/socioecological systems (Prof Tom Oliver), economics (Dr Tom Breeze) and pollination services (Prof Simon Potts).
For more information about the project, contact Dr Emma Gardner at e.l.gardner@reading.ac.uk.
Link to the project page on the UKRI Gateway to Research https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=NE%2FT004029%2F1