University of Worcester student taking apple research to new level

Megan McKerchar’s research explores the affect that planting wildflowers in orchards will have on improving pollination of the fruit and helping pest regulation. The research will help farmers and producers produce better crops in a cost-effective way.

The project, which takes her to Kent’s apple yards, is one of the first studies on this scale combining the study of pest management and pollination.

“Previous studies have been with much smaller plots but mine will be using one hectare plots over 10 different sites,” she said. “This is also the first study to look at pest management and pollination on a one hectare scale.”

Megan will be carrying out the research with the popular Braeburn and new Jazz varieties of apples. She will be exploring whether the use of wildflowers attracts native insects, including wild solitary bees which help pollinate the apples, and hover flies, earwigs and parasitoid wasps which naturally eat and regulate the pests which are detrimental to the crop, such as aphids and moths.

She is using 10 species of flowers, including Birdsfoot Trefoil, Oxeye Daisy and Greater Knapweed, which are currently being sown, and over the next few weeks she will be doing field studies until the apples blossom in April where she will then be monitoring the inspects and the quality of the apples.

“The good thing about the wildflowers we are researching with is that they are common and so if this works, it will be cost-effective for the farmers and growers to use,” she said. “It will also mean they don’t have to mow as much, so will mean less fuel and time required for orchard management.”

The project is jointly funded by the University of Worcester, Fruition PO and Waitrose Plc.

Further information can be found on the University’s website www.worcester.ac.uk/discover/research-highlights.