THE ECOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF DUNG BEETLES IN THE UK

Academic Institution: Aberystwyth University

Project type: MSc

Supervisors: Professor Mike Christie & Dr Sarah Beynon

Funding Body: Access to Masters (The Bug Farm is the industry partner)

Student: Warwick Wainwright   
PROJECT PRESS RELEASE

 

DR BEYNON’S BUG FARM & ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY PRESS RELEASE

Dung beetles could save us £400 million each year!

More information and jpg images available from Dr Sarah Beynon. e: sarah@thebugfarm.co.uk, t: 07966 956357


Researchers from a new research and education centre in West Wales, Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm, in collaboration with Aberystwyth University, have put a price tag on our British dung beetles! They say that they may be saving the UK cattle industry more than £367 million each year by clearing up cow poo! “This is an important finding and really illustrates the importance of dung beetles to our UK farming sector” says lead author, Dr Sarah Beynon.  “Dung beetles really are natures refuse workers and make an important contribution to maintaining a sustainable livestock industry in the UK”. 

“There are about 47 species of dung beetle in the UK: Many people don’t even know that we have dung beetles here, let alone how important they are” says Dr Beynon. “Farming is a business and we felt it was important to show farmers that dung beetles are not only good for the environment, but good for business too”. Dung beetles spend their lives breeding in and tunnelling under dung, pulling dung deep down into the soil in order to lay eggs in it. By doing this, they deliver services important to humans (called ecosystem services). The scientists used a mixture of ecological data and economic modelling to calculate the benefits of four ecosystem services delivered by dung beetles: 1) reduced pasture fouling (less land covered in dung), 2) increased soil nutrients (so better grass growth 3) reduced pest flies, and 4) reduced livestock parasites.

The research, published in the journal Ecological Entomology, also suggested that, if dung beetles were protected under agri-environment schemes, UK cattle farmers could save an additional £40.2 million each year, while if they were protected under organic schemes, the saving could be £378,000 per year. The savings come about from subtle changes in the use of chemicals used for treating cattle for internal parasites (anthelmintics). Some of these chemicals are excreted in the dung and are extremely toxic to dung beetles. The authors suggest that these specific chemicals are avoided during the main March-October grazing season and other chemicals, or methods of parasite control, are used instead. “This is a realistic, practical option for farmers, helping them to reduce chemical use, look after the environment and save money”. Many farmers also treat adult beef cattle which these chemicals, largely unnecessarily, as these animals have developed immunity to parasites. The cessation of these treatments could save an additional £6.2 million each year!

“We understand that these are just preliminary estimates, as we are relying on a large number of assumptions” says Dr Beynon. “However, the true value of dung beetles is likely to be even higher than we estimated because there are many more services that we didn’t include in our model. For example, dung beetles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dung!” Whether the savings per cow are enough to convince farmers to change their practice remains to be seen: Dung beetles are currently saving farmers more than £40 per cow each year, with annual benefits per cow greater in organic systems (£43.47) compared with conventional ones (£37.42). Changes in chemical use could save farmers an extra £1.36-£4.36 per cow each year. For farmers with a large herd of cattle, this saving could be significant at the farm level. However, the authors state that the implementation of their suggestion at a policy level would deliver the greatest benefits to UK agriculture, our British dung beetles and the wider environment. “Our results indicate the importance of valuing invertebrates in U.K. agricultural policy” said co-author Mr Warwick Wainwright.  “Delivering on our promise to protect biodiversity starts with building a rigid ecosystem from the ground up and that’s what we hope to demonstrate here”.

Dr Beynon has set up a business arm of The Bug Farm called Dung Beetles Direct in order to advise farmers and horse owners on farming for dung beetles. Through Dung Beetles Direct, she plans to breed and supply U.K. native beetles to farmers and horse owners across the U.K. Dung beetles were introduced to Australia in the 1970’s for the very purpose of cleaning up cattle pastures. The researchers hope to extend their work further afield and evaluate the success of future re-introductions. 



The research project was funded by a Welsh Government Access to Masters programme, delivered through Aberystwyth University. MSc student Warwick Wainwright carried out the economic analysis. The MSc project was also supported by Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm.


Beynon, S. A., Wainwright, W. A. & Christie, M. (2015) The application of an ecosystem services framework to estimate the economic value of dung beetles tp the U.K. cattle industry. Ecological Entomology, 40 (Suppl. 1), 124-135.


Please follow this link to the full text of the article, published in Ecological Entomology.