Back our bees: Suffolk farmers’ bid to save pollinating insects

Beehives at Heveningham Picture: EAST OF ENGLAND CO-OP

Beehives at Heveningham Picture: EAST OF ENGLAND CO-OP - Credit: Archant

Suffolk farmers are hoping to get the public to sign up to a campaign which they have launched to reverse a worrying decline in pollinating insects.

Clare and Sam Fairs Picture: HILLFARM OILS

Clare and Sam Fairs Picture: HILLFARM OILS - Credit: Archant

Sam and Clare Fairs, of Hillfarm Oils, at Heveningham, near Halesworth, successfully diversified into making their own oil-based products from their oilseed rape crop back in 2004, pioneering an industry now said to be worth about £40m to the UK economy.

But at the same time, they have become increasingly conscious of the crucial role played by bees and other pollinators on their farm against a backdrop of national decline.

MORE - Brexit 'a factor' as Sudbury farmer branches out with £1m high welfare poultry rearing businessThey have introduced a number of measures on the farm to try and encourage more of the beneficial insects by creating habitats and food sources. They are working with beekeepers, planting wildflowers and farming sustainably in order to achieve this.

They have now launched a 'Back Our Bees' campaign aimed at getting members of the public to mirror in small ways some of the changes they have made to their farm in order to make it as bee-friendly as possible.

Sam and Clare Fairs of Hillfarm Oils with their children Picture: HILLFARM OILS

Sam and Clare Fairs of Hillfarm Oils with their children Picture: HILLFARM OILS - Credit: Archant

Friends of the Earth and Buglife back campaign

The drive, which has the backing of conservation charities Friends of the Earth and Buglife, was launched in May.

It is already gathering momentum, with more than 500 people signed up, and they are hoping more will join them on the pledge website at

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Hillfarm oils Picture: HILLFARM OILS

Hillfarm oils Picture: HILLFARM OILS - Credit: Archant

Members of the public pledge their action and receive an email with tips, advice and resources to help them fulfil their promise.

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"As farmers, we have always taken our responsibility to bees and other pollinators very seriously," explained Sam, who diversified the family farm by creating Hillfarm Oils, made from cold-pressed rapeseed oil, and other products like mayonnaise.

"Oilseed rape is rich source of pollen and nectar that attracts many bees. After the rapeseed flowering season, bees then feed on our borage as well as clover and wildflowers in our meadows and woodlands.

"Our bee-friendly environment also benefits the honeybees that reside at Hillfarm. Pollinators are essential for healthy crops and we're firmly committed to sustainable farming practices that protect them."

Bee lids on Hillfarm products Picture: HILLFARM OILS

Bee lids on Hillfarm products Picture: HILLFARM OILS - Credit: Archant

Species decline

In the East of England, Buglife says that 25 species are threatened and 17 species are regionally extinct. An additional 31 species are of conservation concern. The losses are the result of climate change, habitat loss, pollution and disease.

Clare said they were motivated to encourage others to join with them in adopting bee-friendly practices so that collectively, they could start to see real improvements.

"We were very proud to be included in Friends of the Earth's Bee-friendly shopper's guide to rapeseed oil and have long been dedicated to helping boost bee populations," she said.

A field of oilseed rape at the Fairs' farm at Heveningham Picture: HILLFARM OILS

A field of oilseed rape at the Fairs' farm at Heveningham Picture: HILLFARM OILS - Credit: Archant

"After reading recent reports about huge national declines, we decided to launch a campaign to encourage as many people as possible to help them.

"If enough people take just a few small actions, collectively we can make a huge difference to bees. We have already lost some species here in the East. We want to ensure we don't lose any more."

B-Lines initiative

Buglife has created a 'B-Lines' initiative, aimed at helping bees and other pollinating insects by creating a network of 'insect pathways' connecting wildflower areas across the UK.

Paul Hetherington, director of fundraising at BugLife, said small acts could begin to have a big impact on populations if people are willing to get on board with them.

"Individually we may make just a small act for bees but collectively working together we can make a real and lasting difference to save these keystone species," he said.

Initiatives that can help include bee hotels and hives to encourage more insects.

Hillfarm is encouraging pledgers to spread the word and share photos of their bee-backing deeds on social media using the hashtag #backourbees.

Bee-friendly shoppers

Hillfarm has a long relationship with Friends of the Earth and features in its 'Bee-friendly shopper's guide to rapeseed oil' The Fairs' contract farming operation covers nearly 4,000 acres and employs four full time staff, rising to eight at the height of the season.

The family grows wheat, barley, peas, beans, parsley, borage, sugar beet - and about 1000 acres of rapeseed, all of which is pressed by Hillfarm Oils to produce Hillfarm Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil

In 2014, it became the first rapeseed oil producer to publicly commit to not use three neonicitinoid pesticide chemicals blamed for causing a decline in bee and pollinator populations before they were banned by the European Union in 2016.

Friends of the Earth picked up on this commitment and used Hillfarm as a model farm in its 'Save the Bee' campaign.

In 2015 Hillfarm set up the Hillfarm Bee Farm with 10 Hillfarm hives and up to another 200 hives belonging to a beekeeper.

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