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BeeWalk – the national bumblebee monitoring scheme

Logo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Helen Dickinson, Bumblebee Conservation Trust Surveys Officer

Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris: showing a decrease (Les Moore)
Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris: showing a decrease (Les Moore)

Working to protect our bumblebees requires a good understanding of what’s happening to all of our species, from the rarest to the most common. To gather this information, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust established the national bumblebee monitoring scheme; BeeWalk.

BeeWalk is a standardised bumblebee-monitoring scheme active across Great Britain. The scheme protocol involves volunteer BeeWalkers walking the same fixed route (a transect of around 1-2 kilometres) at least once a month between March and October (inclusive). This covers the full flight period of the bumblebees, including emergence from overwintering and workers tailing off. BeeWalkers count the bumblebees they see and identify them to species and caste (queen, worker, male) where possible. ‘Bumblebee sp.’ and ‘unknown caste’ are options where the species and or caste can not be confidently identified.

Collecting data on the abundance of bumblebees enables us to work out the size of populations and how they change over time on a national scale. This data acts as an early warning system for population declines, ensuring that the advice we provide to policymakers, researchers and the public is as accurate as possible. It also allows us to assess the success of habitat management for bumblebees and best target our conservation work.

Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum: increasing in abundance (Les Moore)
Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum: increasing in abundance (Les Moore)

Data received during 2019 is currently being processed for a report later this year, but in total so far BeeWalk had received 151,233 validated records of 23 bumblebee species, that’s 480,113 individual bees! With over 10 years’ worth of data we are able to calculate populations trends for the majority of these species. The last report (2019) indicated that eight species and two species aggregates are increasing in abundance on transects, including the now-common Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) and also the Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum). However, on the flip side, 12 species and one aggregate are decreasing in number on transects, including five of our most common species. This is a worrying development which supports our concerns that even those species we think of as “common” are not doing as well as they might be. It also underlines why the Trust are committed to BeeWalk, without it we wouldn’t be able to pick out these trends and direct our work accordingly.

A BeeWalk in progress (Bumblebee Conservation Trust)
A BeeWalk in progress (Bumblebee Conservation Trust)

We have a fantastic team of volunteer BeeWalkers across Britain, without whom BeeWalk would not be possible. Several volunteers walk multiple transects, with three BeeWalkers clocking up over 100 kilometres annually. 559 transect submitted data for 2018 but we still need more to ensure the whole country is covered and make the scheme as robust as possible.

If you could set up and walk a transect in your area, you would be part of improving our understanding of bumblebee populations, and contributing to how we best protect all our species into the future. Transects can be established anywhere with flower rich habitat, from nature reserves and wildflower meadows to urban green spaces such as parks and gardens. We also have a number of established transect which are no longer being walked, these are available for new BeeWalkers to “adopt”.

Head to the BeeWalk website resource page for full details on getting involved or email beewalk@bumblebeeconservation.org for more information.

The 2020 BeeWalk annual report will be published in the Spring 2020 and can be found at www.bumblebeeconservation.org and www.beewalk.org.uk

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