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Inspiration for Pollinator Conservation: Hedgerow Habitat on Farms

By Angie Orpet on 18. June 2024
Angie Orpet

For Pollinator Week this year, we are talking with Xerces staff to explore their work collaborating with people to support pollinators on different types of agricultural landscapes. Bringing native plants and natural cycles back into such places has major benefits for pollinators and agriculture. Our second interview takes us to a Bee Better Certified farm in Washington state!

 

Meet a Pollinator Conservation Specialist

Tell us about yourself and the work you do at Xerces!

Hi, my name is Angie Orpet (she/her), and I am a Pollinator Conservation Specialist at Xerces! I work with farms in Washington state to plant flowering plants and grasses that will benefit pollinators, natural pest suppression, and biodiversity. This also helps to make farm systems more profitable, climate-smart, and ecologically resilient! Also, I help farms with Bee Better Certification, which is the highest standard for pollinator conservation on farms.

 

A white woman with curly hair, wearing waterproof hiking clothes, smiling and sitting on a very large rock that has been worn smooth from erosion.
Angie holds a Masters degree in Watershed Management from the University of Arizona. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, foraging, and volunteering. (Photo: Angie Orpet)

 

How did you get started in your conservation career?

My love of pollinators started early, as one of my favorite things to do was watch the bumblebees pry open snapdragon flowers. I studied ecology and took many a job trying to find a way to work with the natural world. My turning point was when I took a job in tree fruit research, which led to another at a conservation district, where I worked with farmers on resources like water, soil, and habitat. Throughout this, I continued to volunteer with things that I loved, like butterfly walks, bumble bee surveys, and native plant tours. Finally, work experiences and invertebrate love aligned when I saw the Living Farms Project at Xerces wanted someone to connect pollinator conservation with farms.

 

What is the most challenging part about your job?

When I have to tell people they can’t plant immediately and we have to prepare and wait for the right season. I love their excitement and the good things they want to do for biodiversity so it’s hard to tell them we need to make sure we do it right. 
 

A large fuzzy bumble hanging from a clustering of yellow flowers.
The western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis) is found in some of the areas where I work. They used to be widespread across the western U.S., but have declined significantly. I like this bee because I know I can plant flowering shrubs they will like, such as white spirea, snowberry, and goldenrod. (Photo: Rich Hatfield / Xerces Society)

 

Building hedgerows brings native pollinators to farms

What threats do pollinators face on farms?

There is a long list, unfortunately. Pesticides are a common deadly threat, and in some agricultural landscapes, native pollinator habitat has been nearly eliminated. Native pollinator species also have to compete with  the introduced managed honey bees and bumble bee hives used in agriculture, which can also be sources of disease. All of this is on top of extreme and unpredictable weather caused by the climate crisis.

 

What is a project you worked on to help pollinators on farms?

Recently, I was helping a farm in Washington assess and improve their pollinator habitat. They were looking to expand their Bee Better Certified field of apple trees, and document hedgerows they had previously planted around the farm.

 

A mostly bare field of sandy soil, with several people working to plant new plants in the distance. Spaced regularly throughout the field are small native plants.
In 2023, I helped the farm replace this large area of bare ground with hedgerows of native flowering plants, to provide more habitat for pollinators. (Photo: Angie Orpet / Xerces Society)

 

What are the challenges of building pollinator habitat on farms that you had to solve?

As with many farms, it can be difficult to find spots for habitat that are far enough away from pesticide sprays. The Bee Better Certification standards require at least a 60 ft buffer for permanent habitat like hedgerows. It can also be challenging to design a plant list that fits the climate, soil, nursery availability, and preferences of the farm manager.

Building new habitat is a collaboration, and communication is key! The farm managers and I toured the orchard and they showed me the sites they thought could work. I also noted which native plants were already growing there, and  made a plan with potential woody plants, grasses, and forbs that would do well in the farm’s sandy soils. The farm managers selected the species that worked for them, I ordered the plants, and we picked a planting day when they had available workers.
 

What did you discover about the benefit of hedgerows for pollinators on farms?

I visited the farm’s one-year old hedgerows to survey the pollinators. Following Xerces’ streamlined bee monitoring protocol, I walked 200 feet of the hedgerow for 15 minutes and compared it to what I saw in a nearby unplanted area. The unplanted area, just 500 feet away, had no pollinators at all. But along the hedgerows, I saw many different pollinators, including bumblebees, metallic green sweat bees, small dark bees, and wasps! 

 

The same field, but instead of being bare, the plants have begun to grow in. While there is still space between many of them, several plants are flowering.
While only one year old, five different plant species in the new hedgerows were already flowering and attracting pollinators. As they continue to grow and spread out, it will become an even more valuable habitat for wildlife. (Photo: Angie Orpet / Xerces Society)

 

Farms can make a difference for pollinators

Why is it important to involve agriculture in pollinator conservation?

Agriculture is the largest land use type in the world. And one in three bites of food you eat is the result of insect pollination, like the strawberries that are in season right now. Without the help of farmers, we would be giving up on most of the land pollinators need to survive! Many landowners already want to support pollinators, and planting habitat has plenty of other benefits, like reduced erosion, improved soil health, and biological pest control. Also, farmers are really good at growing plants! So who better to grow vibrant and healthy habitats?

 

How can we support pollinator conservation on farms?

Grow native plants, avoid pesticides, and look for the Bee Better Certified seal at the store and support these farms. Talk with your farmer’s market booths about supporting pollinators. Last, you could join our community science projects like Bumble Bee Watch!

 

A plastic container of blueberries at a grocery store. The packaging is labeled with the Bee Better Certified seal.
When you see the Bee Better Certified label, you can have confidence that this food was grown in ways that improve conditions for wildlife! (Photo: Cameron Newell / Xerces Society)

 

How does Xerces help folks who manage or work on farms get involved in conservation?

At Xerces, we believe that high quality conservation and productive agriculture go hand in hand, and habitat plans work best when they serve wildlife and work for the farm. We use native plants to ensure the habitat will have a long life span, and continue our relationship with the farm so they have everything needed to keep the habitat healthy. You can contact the Living Farms team to learn more!

There are also knowledgeable Xerces and partner biologists and funding available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Xerces' habitat kit program provides free plants to working lands.

For farms that want to go to the next level of pollinator conservation, we also can help them get Bee Better Certified. This certification has set the standard for pollinator conservation in the food industry, and is prioritized by several major companies.
 

If there was one thing you could make sure people knew about conservation on farms, what would it be?

There are a lot of challenges that pollinators face in agricultural lands and creating safe and effective habitat on farms does require thoughtful planning. But this is something we can do that makes a huge difference! Pollinator hedgerows on farms add beauty and resilience that can last for decades.  

When we face the scary thought of losing our valuable pollinators and invertebrates, I am so appreciative of the many individuals, farms, businesses, and Xerces colleagues working together to turn the tide. They make this work possible.

 

Learn more about pollinator habitat on farms

Resources for everyone

 

Resources for farm managers and workers

 

Authors

Angela works with agricultural producers in the inland Pacific Northwest to create pollinator friendly habitat. She strives to bring the joy of invertebrates to all people through conversation and habitat creation. Angie has been collaborating with farmers since 2016 to help with resource needs in perennial and annual crops. She holds a MS in Watershed Management from the University of Arizona. Outside of work Angie spends time cooking, foraging, and volunteering.

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