Optimising multifunctional land-use decisions through robust combined models:

A pollination-crop yield-landscape aesthetics case study

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.

This project studied 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.

Researcher Co-Investigator Emma Gardner introduces the project in this short video

Models to capture multiple benefits

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

  • The process-based ecological model used in the project simulated the foraging behaviour of bees and has been validated against observational data collected at 259 sites across Great Britain. It allowed the project team 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.
  • The economic model used in the project can estimate 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, the project’s 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 1,000 respondents.

Real-world application

The project’s combined model can be used 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, the project team were able to use their combined model to assess the resulting benefits and identify which combination of interventions maximises benefits to pollinators and people.

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. The project team worked in consultation with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to ensure that it tested 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. For more information about the project, please contact Dr Emma Gardner.