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University of Worcester Student Leading the Way in Apple Research

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A PhD student at the University of Worcester is researching more natural ways to help apples grow and flourish in the UK.

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 24-year-old’s research will help farmers and producers produce better crops in a cost-effective way.

Megan, originally from County Clare in Ireland, has a background in Zoology, Biodiversity and Conservation, along with research into the changes of bee and wasp numbers.

But her new project, which takes her to Kent’s apple yards, means she will be looking at pest management and pollination on a large scale – one of the first combined studies of this scale undertaken.

“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.

Megan said: “I am really excited about this project and getting into it. There is a lot of research ahead of me but I’m hopeful it will go well. I want to thank my sponsors who are helping me do this work and the support that the University is giving me while I am here. I am also so pleased to be working and living in Worcester, it’s a great city and I feel very comfortable here already.”

Megan is currently writing a blog about her research, which can be found at www.applesandwildflowers.blogspot.co.uk