What could your dung beetles be doing for you?
Hosted by Ali Birkett, Lancaster Environment Centre with experts and farmers.
A healthy dung beetle population is a small army working for free on behalf of the livestock farmer. They are estimated to be saving the UK cattle industry alone ~£367 million each year* by breaking down muck pats, taking food and breeding habitat from parasites, and returning lost nutrients back into the soil. This is in addition to being food for farmland bats and birds themselves. A win for farmers and nature.
In this session we visited two livestock farms in both conventional and conservation sheep and cattle farming settings to hear directly from the farmers – Bruce Thompson and Sally-Ann Spence respectively – about what their dung beetles are doing for them and see what they in turn are doing to help to support their dung beetle workforce. With a general overview of dung beetles in the north from Ali Birkett, a demonstration of how to check on your own dung beetle population with Cumbrian farmer Tonia Armer and an open Q&A with our dung beetle experts, this engaging session equipped participants to employ a happy dung beetle workforce of their own!
Sally-Ann Spence is a Fellow of both the Royal Entomological Society and the Linnaean Society and an Honorary Associate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. She specialises in dung beetles and pastureland biodiversity and founded the UK Dung Beetle Mapping Project accumulating species data. Her work with the project has seen her surveying field sites all over the UK including many outlying islands enabling her to study a multitude of grazing systems. This practical experience has been translated into collaborative projects working on sustainable land management plans within the farming community to promote dung beetles as important bio-indicators for soil, pasture and livestock health. She also owns and runs an educational research centre ‘Berrycroft Hub’ based on her family farm where she keeps PFLA accredited livestock and manages all the grassland. As a passionate advocate of British farming and biodiversity, Sally-Ann does a great deal of scientific public outreach both at her centre on the farm, at various events and on all media platforms including television.
Bruce Thompson is a Spring calving dairy farmer operating an intensive, low cost grass based system with 250 cows. He has adapted novel grazing techniques to significantly reduce anthelmintics in tandem with increasing his beetle populations to reduce parasite loadings on his pastures. With this as his topic, Bruce has received a Nuffield scholarship and has so far travelled around Southern Australia and Tasmania to research beetles.
Ali Birkett has a background in ecological research, particularly studying how northern upland dung beetles are affected by land use and climate change. She now works at Lancaster Environment Centre helping scientists share the findings of their research and is especially interested in two-way knowledge exchange between farming and research.
Tonia Armer has been involved in the family beef and sheep farm for nearly 40 years. She is keen on trying to ensure the farm is nature-friendly as well as profitable.
You can read a blog post of the session outcomes here.
Links to the dung beetle videos shared in the session:
Sally-Ann Spence video.
Bruce Thompson video.