M&S Partners To Boost Pollinator Activity On British Farms

British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced a three-year collaboration with agri-tech start up AgriSound, designed to help farmers better manage pollinators and increase crop yields.

The collaboration will see two M&S Select Farms, Plumford in Kent and G’s Growers in Cambridgeshire, install in-field sensors for three years, allowing them to track the number of pollinators visiting their farm in real-time and target specific interventions for improving numbers.

AgriSound are biodiversity experts, based in York, that have developed specialist listening devices, which combine acoustic technology and environmental sensors to monitor the density of key pollinators, including bumblebees and honeybees, as well as the wider insect community remotely. The devices collect and send data via mobile data, with users able to see results via a smartphone or web app.

At Plumford in Kent, the sensors will be located in a new orchard, to help assess the effectiveness of different densities of wildflowers in attracting pollinators. Meanwhile, G’s Growers in Cambridgeshire will be placing the sensors in a range of different agri-environment habitats, such as hedgerows, pollen and nectar mix and wild bird seed mix, to evaluate the relative value of these different habitats in attracting pollinators at different times of the year. Learnings will be shared with the wider industry.

Chris Elworthy, Director, Plumford Farm Ltd, said: “Pollinators play a vital role in helping us to deliver the best quality fruit we can at the farm – so we’re keen to see the impact of different wildflower densities in the orchard alleys on activity. With so many current environmental challenges, it’s now more important than ever to understand pollinators better. We’re delighted to be taking part in the project and excited to see what beneficial outcomes can be achieved by these relatively simple measures.  If we can attract even more pollinators to our orchards, this will be a real success.”

The collaboration is part of M&S five-year Farming with Nature program, launched last year, to support the retailer’s Select Farmers to become more resilient to environmental challenges spanning climate change and biodiversity loss.

As part of the program, M&S has partnered with specialist industry partner LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) to strengthen pollinator-friendly farming practices across M&S’s grower base in the UK. Already LEAF Marque certified, M&S British growers set aside a minimum of 5% (average of 11%) of their farmland for wildlife (according to growers this includes 925 hectares of wildflowers – equivalent to over 1,000 football pitches), in addition providing year-round food for pollinators and monitoring pollinators on farm.

M&S has also collaborated with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, FERA and Kings Frontier to test different wildflower seed mixes on a number of M&S Select Farms aiming to enhance yield and reduce costs through pollination and reduced pests. As part of the partnership with Kings Frontier, wildflower seed is offered to all M&S British growers at a discounted rate; 15 hectares of habitat has been created as direct result of this initiative, including 4 hectares of pollen and nectar and wildflower habitats.

M&S’ latest Family Matters Index revealed that the environment is one of the top concerns for UK families, with 64% concerned about the impact on future generations. Last year, the retailer reset its sustainability programme Plan A, to have an unrelenting focus on becoming a fully net zero business by 2040 and to support customers to make more sustainable choices.

Andrew Clappen, Technical Director at M&S Food, said: “Improving biodiversity is at the forefront of our plans to help farmers become more resilient to the impact of climate change. Pollinators are the unsung heroes of British farming – helping to improve yields and quality while benefitting the wider environment.
Since we launched Farming with Nature, we’ve been hosting workshops offering advice to our M&S Select Farmers on the best ways to attract more pollinators. Now, by partnering with AgriSound, both Plumford farm and G’s Growers will have real-time data and valuable insights into what’s working and what’s not.
We’re also working closely with farmers on land use and different wildflower mixes to boost pollinator numbers, alongside crop health and pest management.”

Casey Woodward, Founder and CEO of AgriSound, said: “We’re delighted to team up with M&S and install some of our PollyTM devices across two innovative producer sites. The development of PollyTM has taken years of dedicated research and it is really exciting to see our technology beginning to deliver unique insights into pollinator activity. I look forward to working closely with the teams at M&S, Plumford and G’s Growers to help protect local pollinator communities.”

Gill Perkins, CEO of The Bumblebee Conservation Trusts, adds: “To help wild pollinators, we need to work across the wider countryside and farmland is the key to that.  It’s great to see M&S working with farmers to thoroughly integrate monitoring and pollinator-friendly management into these systems.”

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By Published On: August 15th, 2022Tags:

About the Author: Christopher Durham

Christopher Durham is the president of the Velocity Institute. Prior to this he founded the groundbreaking site My Private Brand. He is the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He began his retail career building brands at Food Lion and Lowe’s Home Improvement. Durham has worked with retailers around the world, including Albertsons, Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro Canada. Durham has published seven definitive books on private brands, including Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project and Vanguard: Vintage Originals.

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