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Scientific research

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is the UK’s trusted expert on bumblebee populations, ecology and conservation. Since 2008, we’ve led the BeeWalk bumblebee-monitoring scheme, and collected vital data with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

 

We are always keen to collaborate on bumblebee projects, and regularly support university students and research institutes across the UK.

A Moss carder bumblebee feeding on a bright yellow flower.

BeeWalk

BeeWalk is a national citizen-science recording scheme, established to monitor the abundance of bumblebees across the UK. It began in 2008 and covers Great Britain, with an equivalent scheme in Ireland & Northern Ireland (the All-Ireland Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme, run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre).

The BeeWalk dataset consists of transects walked monthly by volunteers who record the species and abundance of bumblebees they see. It includes standard habitat and land-use categories and a substantial number of BeeWalkers also record the species of flower that the bees are visiting.

The full dataset is freely available via Figshare.

The Trust is keen to be involved with any research using the data, and if used, it should be properly cited and a copy of the research forwarded to the Trust.

Students and academics

We work with students from undergraduates up to PhD, as CASE partners, supervisors and data suppliers. For details of papers authored by Trust staff or which use BeeWalk data, please see our publications page and separate BeeWalk publications page.

We’re always open to more, and have a range of possible project topics below. If you’re a student and would like to work on one of these (or a different project that you think we could help with), or more broadly if you’d like to collaborate with us or use our data in a project, please email our Science Manager at richard.comont@bumblebeeconservation.org.

Projects of interest

  • Habitat/region

    • What species are doing well where? For example, are some species doing well in the south but not the north?
    • How are different species faring in different habitat types? We have habitat data for the transect sections (picked by the BeeWalkers from a list of EUNIS level 2 habitat classes), and could look at a 1km or similar buffer around each transect using the CEH Land Cover Map, etc for a broader perspective.
  • Climate

    • What can we learn by looking at the BeeWalk data with climate modelling? A lot of UK bumblebees have shown significant range changes over the past century. For example B. distinguendus has retreated northwards and vanished in the south and B. muscorum appears to be following a similar pattern; B. terrestris, B. lapidarius, & B. rupestris (at least) seem to be pushing their northern range edge further northwards; B. ruderarius, B. subterraneus, B. sylvarum all retreated southwards and were lost from northern parts of their range; B. humilis retreated southwards but seems to be returning northwards over the past decade; and B. monticola is probably a species at risk from future climate warming.
    • Possibility for envelope modelling or similar applied to historic climate data and/or future warming scenarios (possibly also using bumblebee data from BWARS.
  • Ecology

    • Is it possible to pick up patterns in the populations of cuckoo bumblebees and their hosts? If so, how much do host abundances or fluctuations affect cuckoos? What kind of lag time is there? Or are environmental factors more important such as spring temperatures?
    • Using the flower visitation data collected on BeeWalk it would be possible to look for potential niche separation between species flying alongside each other (e.g. long-tongued vs short-tongued species), or individual species’ changing flower preferences through the year.
    • How does bumblebee phenology, such as the date of queen emergence from hibernation, vary between years? What is the likely driver (e.g. spring temperature, weather conditions)?
  • Data

    • How representative is each survey of the local bee population? Essentially, where we have multiple BeeWalks in close proximity (spatial and temporal), we’d expect them to be more similar than when the surveys are more distant (to a certain extent/distance/period) – which is useful to know when we come to analyse the data/interpret the results.
    • How does the number of bumblebees seen vary with time of day, weather conditions, temperature, etc?
  • Other

    Away from BeeWalk, the Trust is always interested in bumblebee research, and especially research related to the identification, ecology, or conservation of species.

    If you have an idea for a project and think we could help, please email our Science Manager at richard.comont@bumblebeeconservation.org.

A road verge covered in tall, bright wildflowers.

Case Study

Claire Wallace, PhD, University of East Anglia. Road Verges for Bumblebee Conservation: a Green Infrastructure Opportunity or an Ecological Trap? (2018 – 2022)

Road verges are estimated to cover 500,000 kilometres of land in the UK and have huge potential for bumblebee conservation. They can provide bees with food and nesting resources as well as improving habitat connectivity. However, bumblebees using verges may also be exposed to pollutants due to being close to traffic.

This PhD project addressed some of questions surrounding the use of verges for bumblebee conservation, and whether the benefits outweigh the costs.