Rothamsted display on using flowers to minimise pesticide use and enhance biodiversity wins RHS award

22nd May 2014

Scientists from Rothamsted Research, Dr Sam Cook and Dr Jason Baverstock, have been awarded a Silver Flora Award by the Royal Horticultural society for their display on using flowers to minimise pesticide use and enhance biodiversity, in the Discovery category at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The display designed by Rothamsted’s in-house curative arts director, Nicky Seymour, demonstrates how flowers can be used to manage insects on crops and in gardens to help reduce our reliance on pesticides and promote biodiversity. This exhibit of scientific research shows how flowering plants can regulate insect pest populations. Altering petal colour can reduce pest numbers on plants and certain wild flowers can provide resources for their natural enemies. The exhibit has been inspired by agricultural research led by Dr Sam Cook with Dr Jason Baverstock at Rothamsted. The stand includes examples of oilseed rape with different petal colours, flowering field margins displayed in large planters as well as live insects.

The construction of this exhibit would not have been possible without the assistance of Julian Franklin and his team of Glasshouse experts, as well as Head Gardener Graeme Overton and his team, not to mention the host of other Rothamsted staff who have supported this project.

The work, supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Biotechnology and the Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), shows how these complimentary techniques can be used within sustainable integrated pest management schemes. 

The exhibit draws on the long established research and cutting edge science and innovation at Rothamsted Research. It forms part of the strong core of work being done within the Department of AgroEcology which strives to understand the ecological mechanisms that deliver sustainable crop production. We have expertise in Soil Microbial Ecology, Weed Ecology, Pollination, Insect Migration, Spatial Ecology, Integrated Pest Management and Perennial Biomass Crops.

The new Director of Rothamsted Research, Prof Achim Dobermann said "This is a fine example for how high-quality, interdisciplinary ecological engineering can contribute to finding new solutions for sustainable agriculture. We need agricultural systems with a higher degree of biodiversity, thus also resulting in greater resilience to many pests."

This science is supported by a unique combination of facilities including the Rothamsted Insect Survey (a National Capability), eight ‘Classical’ experiments that have been continuously running for over 150 years, as well as a 330 ha research farm, unique Vertical Looking and Harmonic Radars and insect behaviour and, state-of-the-art glasshouses and field labs.

Whilst the focus of Rothamsted’s work is agricultural science, its pioneering work has proved equally applicable to horticulturalists and gardeners alike to help manage pests. This project work, funded by Defra, will develop approaches that are potentially transferable from arable to horticulture.

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