The Southwestern European Space (SUDOE) hosts large areas of oilseed crops pollinized by insects. However, the pollination ecosystem service has been severely reduced over the last decade due to habitat destruction and honeybee colony collapses: the restoration of these habitats and populations represents a common challenge at the regional level.

This project of the European INTERREG-SUDOE program, titled Pollinator Protection and Ecosystem Services in the SUDOE Region: the role of Green Infrastructure in the Sustainability of Oleaginous Agroecosystems (Poll-Ole-GI), develops and promotes specialized green infrastructure (GI) for oilseed crops with the objective of restoring ecosystem services in agroecosystems and refuge and resources for pollinators.

This innovative and multifunctional approach will increase plant and pollinator biodiversity in agroecosystems, increase crop productivity, decrease ecotoxicological risk to pollinators including the honeybee, and reduce the dispersion of contaminating nutrients and agrochemicals. Poll-Ole-GI creates baselines on pollinator data, risk models, cartographic models, and designs and applies specialized floral communities and soil amendments (see section on specific activities of the project [link]).

Poll-Ole-GI guides the integration of this type of green infrastructure into policy, from the beginning counting on the support of regional governments and public agricultural agencies. Integrating agricultural practices, land use, policy, and governance, the project orients policy toward productivity and sustainable outcomes. All of this represents a significant added value for Europe by promoting an integrative and coherent evaluation of management options which improve biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the guarantee of food production, supported by technical analyses, models, and territorial planning tools.

Pollinators assist the reproduction of over 80% of the world’s plants; these include a great variety of important crops grown for human and animal nourishment.

Pollination is often necessary for or aids the success and quality of fruit set – this means that pollination is critical for the productivity of many agricultural crops.

Poll-Ole-GI focuses on pollination associated with the most important oleaginous (oilseed) crops in the SUDOE region and Europe: sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and rapeseed (Brassica napus). These are industrial, intensive crops which produce mass flowerings in April-June in the case of rapeseed, and July-September in the case of sunflower. During these periods, they provide important resources to cultivated honeybees as well as wild pollinators.

Though animal pollination is not strictly necessary for either of these plants, seed set can be severely reduced in the absence of pollinators, and quality is also improved with insect pollination.

Ecosystem services is the term used to describe benefits provided to society by natural systems. These services benefit and are even indispensable for society, supporting human economies and the wellbeing of people. Though ecosystem services are crucial for life, they are often unnoticed or unappreciated. However, they are now receiving increasing recognition in European policy as indicators of the quality of society’s interaction with nature.

Pollination is an ecosystem service which is highly threatened by destruction of habitat and pesticides, among other factors, contributing to phenomena such as colony collapse disorder, which has taken a serious toll on honeybees. Through rural green infrastructure, Poll-Ole-GI promotes the ecosystem services which improve the pollination service and protect the environment.

Oleaginous crops are of high importance in the SUDOE region and in Europe. These crops, comprising primarily of sunflower and rapeseed, are crops of industrial and alimentary use. Europe produces 6.5 M ha of rapeseed (leading the world), followed by sunflower with 4.1 M ha in cultivation. Energy independence and the development of a bioeconomy are implicated in an appropriate agricultural policy both in terms of productivity and environmental protection.

Biodiesel production in Europe depends on productions of rapeseed and sunflower which together comprise 68% of the European biodiesel feedstock, and France and Spain are the second and fifth greatest producers of biodiesel in Europe, respectively. Of course, sunflower is also a highly important source of edible oils.

Sunflower and rapeseed are also the crops dependent on insect pollination having the greatest extension in Europe. These oleaginous crops, often rotated with other crops, can be high-input systems requiring large quantities of fertilizer, pesticides, and water. Their impact on the environment can be reduced by implementing semi-natural grassland buffers which filter, degrade, or immobilize environmental contaminants.

The restoration of the ecosystem services requires the creation of green infrastructure (GI) and its extension into agro-ecosystems (COM / 2015/0478). While some forms of GI have been optimized for specific ecosystem services (control of floods, erosion, etc.) to date this has not been adequately described or mandated for agricultural areas. Resolving this problem is of course limited by political and financial support, lack of farm practices and management oriented towards restoration, and social factors including conflicts of interest.

Research has shown that promoting wild pollinator populations via the conservation of natural space, planting of flowering hedgerows, and similar, puts pollinator protection and ecosystem service provision hand in hand. Crop quantity and quality have both been shown to improve with the implementation of such measures. Therefore, an effective and efficient way forward to mitigate pollinator declines, as well as other environmental impacts resulting from oleaginous crop systems, should be the implementation of natural solutions, specifically a green infrastructure oriented towards these systems to ensure their sustainability and support the provision of multiple ecosystem services, but with particular emphasis on pollination enhancement, biodiversity conservation, soil protection, and reduction of contaminant dispersal and toxic effects on non-target species.

Agriculture and European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are key to the protection of biodiversity, however, to date the development of this relationship has been insufficient and requires the adoption of measures at a higher spatial scale (COM / 2015/0478). Recent trends in European CAP policy of rural development aid (compensation for greening and ecological focus areas may include hedges, crop margins or the like), which are transposed to the national and regional level, promote ecological engineering solutions covering aspects such as environmental protection, health and biodiversity.

It is necessary to take advantage of regional policies for this purpose because of their large contribution to rural development and payment systems. To date, restoration with hedges and vegetated margins has been sporadic. However, in 2014 new policies were introduced to promote such practices generically, and in SUDOE oilseed cropping systems this needs be adequately demonstrated and encouraged.

Proper management of the soils supporting agriculture is crucial for the longevity of their productivity. In many regards, the quality of soils can be gauged by their organic matter contents, a key indicator of soil quality. Replenishing organic matter contents is key for protecting soils against erosion and even desertification, very real and relevant threats in this era of intensive agriculture.

In fact, the “mining” of fertile soils high in soil organic matter, with intensive management causing reductions in organic matter contents, has been a significant source of CO2 released into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect and global warming. Agricultural soils can be protected with green infrastructure, since it is expected that the soils will increase in organic matter contents, and this will also improve soils’ capacity to filter and degrade agrochemicals and provide areas for ground-nesting wild bees.