Friends of the Earth and the Great British Bee Count

Written by Friends of the Earth senior nature campaigner Paul de Zylva

People around the UK are being urged to take part in the first Great British Bee Count, which began in June and runs until the end of August, to help scientists build a nationwide picture of bee health.

Friends of the Earth, B&Q and Buglife have developed a free smartphone app to enable people to identify bee species and log sightings while out and about, downloadable from the website. The citizen science project is part of the organisations’ work to reverse the severe decline in bee populations over recent decades.

Already more than 21,000 people have joined, spotting more than 600,000 bees across the UK. We’ve had hundreds of photos posted in our Facebook gallery of VIBs (that’s Very Important Bees) and tweeted at us. We’re delighted with the enthusiastic response – it really shows how much people care about bees and want to learn more about these iconic species.

The widespread support for our campaign to protect bees, The Bee Cause, has shown how many people are fascinated by bees, want to help and find out more. A recent YouGov survey puts bee decline top of people’s UK environmental concerns (85%), ahead of climate change (83%).

The Great British Bee Count has been designed to reach those people who want to learn a bit more and enjoy doing so without having to be an expert. With the aid of illustrations, the app helps you tell the difference between some of the most common or hard-to-identify bees, or choose ‘other’ if you’re not sure, and asks for information about location, habitat and numbers.

We’d like to make The Great British Bee Count an annual event, so the data, which we hope can be submitted for inclusion on the NBN Gateway at some point in the future, can be used to help fill in some of the blanks about where different species are thriving – and where they may be thin on the ground.

This year, the focus is on encouraging as many people as possible to get closer to nature and look for the fascinating differences in colour, shape and behaviour between different groups and species of bee. We hope that this will be the start of people’s journey towards becoming more knowledgeable about bees, and interested in acting for their revival.  We are talking with the National Biodiversity Network and a range of other organisations (including those we are working most closely with in getting the best possible National Pollinators Strategy from the Government this autumn) about how the data can be cleaned up and used, and how we could refine the survey next year to reach more people and make the data collected even better.

We’ll publish the first results this autumn. Over time, we hope they will help start to answer some key questions about bees: for example, whether gardens and schools are providing the right plants for bees, or if the tree bumblebee, frequently seen in the south, is now foraging in the north.

Of course, many organisations and experts, such as BWARS and Bumblebee Conservation Trust, are already doing great work monitoring groups of bees and other pollinating insects, from solitary and bumblebees to hoverflies and beetles. We want The Great British Bee Count to complement these programmes. The huge public interest in this project is also a way to send Government the clear signal that people want strong action to help bees. We’ll continue to call for a robust National Pollinator Strategy that fully tackles the threats bees face – like intensive farming, pesticides and how land is developed – as well as puts some money into proper national monitoring of bees health so the Government can plan effective action to help them.

In the meantime, a big thank you to everyone who’s joined the Great British Bee Count and is helping be part of the generation that saves our bees. You really are making a difference.

Bees' needs: public urged to support pollinators Defra has recently published its guidelines for simple actions to help pollinators and protect the vital contribution these insects make to our economy.  Find out more here

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