Get involved and help researchers find out which plants bumblebees like

Get involved and help researchers find out which plants bumblebees like

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen will be on hand this week to show people how a new interactive tool can help us to help bees.

The citizen science project,BeeWatch, will launch its new interactive site giving advice on pollinator friendly plants that are vital for bumblebee survival, and the team will be giving demonstrations of the tool to shoppers at the Mains of Drum Garden Centre today (Friday), and Dobbies Garden Centre on Sunday (March 26).

The University of Aberdeen and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust have been running BeeWatch since 2010 to monitor bumblebees across the UK. Through BeeWatch members of the British public have submitted more than 13,000 photographs of bumblebees and had them identified as one of 22 species in the UK, either by experts or collaboratively by the BeeWatch community.

This valuable information has allowed scientists to monitor the occurrence of different bumblebee species across the UK in a manner that would not be feasible without the public’s help.

BeeWatch is now launching the interactive ’Planting for Pollinators’ tool as collaborative venture between the University of Aberdeen, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) and the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS), with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

With the new tool a user can simply select a bumblebee species and immediately find out its favourite plant species. Likewise, by selecting a plant in ones’ garden all bumblebee species relying on this for pollen or nectar are portrayed. There is even an option to list several plants in your garden to find out what bumblebee species to expect, when these plants are likely to be used by them, and when none of them provide sufficient feeding opportunity. For those flower poor periods, typically taking place later in summer, suggestions are given what plants could be added to your garden based on BeeWatch data.

‘Planting for Pollinators’ aims to increase awareness about the environmental needs of the different bumblebee species and offers practical recommendations on which flowers are attractive to these pollinators throughout the season. Doing this gives people the opportunity to get involved and take simple positive actions that can increase the diversity of bumblebee species in their gardens to the benefit of those important pollinators and the wider environment.

BeeWatch already holds a wealth of information contributed by the community on which flowers bumblebees feed, giving a detailed picture of what plant species are preferred by which bumblebee species. In the true spirit of citizen science, BeeWatch is now sharing this rich resource with the public, offering suggestions on what flowers to plant to help different bumblebee species through the whole season.

Professor René van der Wal, project co-ordinator at the University of Aberdeen, said: “We hope that more photo submissions of bumblebees and the plants they feed on will enable the ‘Planting for Pollinators’ system to grow and provide increasingly detailed feedback to users as well as enhancing our scientific understanding of the bumblebees found across the UK, and that the planting information will allow people to take positive action rather than just being overwhelmed by the many environmental concerns.”

Gill Perkins CEO of the BBCT said: “There are vast areas covered by suburban gardens, estimated at over 1million hectares, if gardeners could grow more bee friendly flowers it could make a huge difference to the declines in our cherished native bumblebees. Encouraging activities such as the planting of wildflowers and traditional cottage-garden flowers in gardens through the use of BeeWatch will help achieve that.”

RHS Senior Horticultural Advisor Helen Bostock said: “To be able to provide gardeners with even more valuable information about the steps they can take to support bumblebees is a great achievement, and one that all the partners should be proud of. The insights the public provide could be the key to helping us understand the plants these remarkable pollinators prefer, which in turn will help us do more to sustain them.”

Dr. David Slawson from OPAL, a UK-wide citizen science programme, added: “It is fantastic to see the realisation of the Planting for Pollinators tool on BeeWatch and how OPAL partners from across the UK are taking part in outreach opportunities this spring to promote BeeWatch and citizen science activities related to pollinators.”