Bumblebee Conservation Trust runs various citizen science projects. One of the finest examples is BeeWalk. The central goal of the BeeWalk programme is to be able to reliably evaluate the trends in British bumblebee populations.
This deceptively simple scheme gets people involved in collecting data so that The Trust can get more get information on exactly which species are faring well and which species are a cause for concern, and how bumblebee populations are changing over time.
One of the most pleasing outcomes is the way in which the project further raises awareness of bumblebees. The more people come to understand our pollinating insects the more they come to appreciate them and become motivated to take action to help them. That you can contribute data whilst taking some healthy exercise is another bonus.
BeeWalk has been on the go since 2008, and the general public have been able to contribute since 2011 (Bumblebee Conservation Trust members were involved from 2010 following a two-year trial stage). Volunteer ‘BeeWalkers’ simply walk the same fixed route each month from spring to autumn, starting in March and ending in October. The army of willing walkers count the bumblebees they see, grouping them by species and further separating them into queen, worker, or male categories.
The time frame is designed to cover the period from a queen’s emergence out of overwintering through to nests dying out at the end of the season.
Of course 2020 saw a blip in data collection. The pandemic meant that some walkers couldn’t visit their transect, some volunteers were shielding, and general Covid-related restrictions impinged on normal practice. However, the scheme bounced back in 2021, and this year has seen normal service more or less resumed.
BeeWalk data enables the Trust to assess the size of bumblebee populations and how these change over time. From this they can closely monitor population trends, which can be used to identify at risk species and direct conservation activities. The year-on-year gathering of data is hugely beneficial as cumulatively it forms the basis of long-term monitoring of bumblebee population changes.
It’s a cliché, but from small steps big things can happen. Individual BeeWalkers will likely return to their gardens and follow pollinator-friendly planting regimes. They may spread the word locally, and with luck influence individuals, communities and local authorities to factor pollinator-friendly practices into their greenspace management practices.
BeeWalk has gone from strength to strength. Today there are over 600 active BeeWalkers and even in 2020 BeeWalk volunteers were still able to survey over 500 transects. By the end of the 2020 season, across the lifetime of the scheme almost 175,000 BeeWalk records had been submitted and around 558,000 individual bees had been recorded.
Bumblebee Conservation Trust haven’t rested on their laurels however.
Skills for Bees complements the BeeWalk scheme by offering more targeted training and support for bumblebee recorders, in under-recorded areas of Britain. In Scotland this has centred on the Cairngorms, where historically there are comparatively few bumblebee records or indeed BeeWalks. It’s a good choice of focus as several nationally scarce species are known to occur there, including the Bilberry (Bombus monticola), Broken-belted (Bombus soroeensis), and Moss Carder bumblebees (Bombus muscorum). Through training and targeted survey days, the project will be greatly increasing knowledge of bumblebees in the area. Anyone interested in getting involved should contact Project Officer Annie Ives by email @ email@example.com
With the emergence of hugely popular research and monitoring projects, such as FIT-Counts and BeeWalks, citizen science is both raising awareness and providing valuable data. Long may their success continue.
The most recent BeeWalk report was published in 2021.
If you would like to get involved you can find further information on the BeeWalk website
Find out more about bumblebees at www.bumblebeeconservation.org
With sincere thanks to Helen Dickinson of Bumblebee Conservation Trust for all her help in compiling this article.