Identifying bumblebees


The Bumblebee Conservation Trust focuses on science to establish what is happening to our bumblebees, and to underpin our programme of practical conservation work. 

The main monitoring tool is our citizen-science recording scheme BeeWalk, where volunteers walk a set route every month between March and October to identify and count the bumblebees they see. We use this data to investigate the health of bumblebee populations, and also work in collaboration with other researchers to use this unique data as widely as possible.

BBCT is also a member of the State of Nature partnership, the Pollinator Advisory Steering Group, and the Pollinator Monitoring Coordination Group (amongst others) to ensure our science leads to policy change, and the widest possible public awareness of the state of our bees.

Various publications have been produced relating to the data that BBCT collects and the science we carry out.


Siddharthan, A., Lambin, C., Robinson, A-M., et al. (2016). Crowdsourcing without a crowd: Reliable online species identification using Bayesian models to minimize crowd size.  ACM Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology 7 (4) article 45.

Dicks, L.V., Baude, M., Roberts, S.P.M., et al. (2015).  How much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators? Answering a key policy question with incomplete knowledge. Ecological Entomology 40 (S1), 22-35

Other (reports, theses, etc)
Carvell, C., Isaac, N., Jitlal, M., et al. (2016).  Design and testing of a National Pollinator and Pollination Monitoring Framework

Student Research Projects

Two of our students have been working with the Trust over the summer and you can read a little on their dissertations below.

Jake Jones - undergraduate studying Countryside & Environmental Management at Harper Adams University

My volunteering with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust has led me to base my dissertation project on bees. I will be walking five of the Short-haired bumblebee project transects which have been walked for the last 6/7 years. Bumblebees the genus Bombus have got varying tongues lengths which can limit what the bees can forage on. They fit into three groups; short, medium and long tongue. The four species which my dissertation will focus on is Large Garden and the Brown-banded carder bee both long tongues and Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species. One medium length tongue species the Red-tailed bumblebee and one short tongued bee such as the Buff-tailed bumblebee. The dissertation will hopefully uncover key plant species that are a staple forage source for all three tongue lengths. This will hopefully show plant species which are commonly used by all four species for every month April to September.

The dissertation will also looking into the importance of White Dead Nettle for bees. The nettle flowers twice a year once in April and again in August. Key times of year for the queens to start colonies or going into hibernation. Soil analyse will occur during the summer to see if the nettle has any limitations where it can grow. This will investigate if the nettle can be encouraged and managed across the marsh. As the flower seems to be vary localised and specific on the Romney Marsh.

Overall the dissertation will help provide a clearer picture of which plants they depend on each from April to September. This will help the project not only improve habitat for the Short-haired bumblebee but other rare bees such as the Large Garden and the Brown-banded carder bee.

Peter Pike - undergraduate at Canterbury University studying animal science

This summer I will be carrying out an experiment which seeks to establish whether there is a difference in pollen and nectar production in cultivar versus wild red clover (Trifolium pratense). Red clover was once a dominant part of the British landscape, prominent in wild-flower meadows. These wildflower meadows provided bee populations with forage essential for colony health and survival – nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for vital protein and fats. 

Due to agricultural intensification in the last century, wild-flower meadows have dwindled - an effect that has led to a decline in populations of bumblebees and the extinction of two native species. In an attempt to safeguard the future of the 24 remaining bumblebee species, agri-environmental schemes have been implemented to recreate flower-rich habitat in areas such as field margins and sheep and cattle pastures. These schemes advise farmers to sow cultivar mixes into these areas as they are cheap and work well in farm rotations, yet no work has been done on the pollen and nectar content of these cultivars compared to that of the wild type.

If these cultivar mixes are to be successful in conserving bumblebee populations, they must be able to provide adequate and good quality forage. I will investigate this by looking at both the nectar and pollen of cultivar and wild red clover. The amount of nectar produced by each type will be recorded and then analysed for % sucrose using a hand-held refractometer. Pollen will be collected from each type and analysed for protein content using a Bradford Assay.  The results will then be analysed statistically to test for differences between the wild and cultivar red clover.

“Bumblebees are lovely little creatures - their bright stripes and gentle buzz bring colour and sound to our summer gardens. They are also very important because they pollinate our wildflowers and crops. Sadly things aren't going well and some species are threatened with extinction.
I'm really concerned by these declines and I'm pleased to support the work of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust." 

Kate Humble
TV presenter

Kate Humble
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