BeeWalk – the national bumblebee monitoring scheme
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Helen Dickinson, Bumblebee Conservation Trust Surveys Officer
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.
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.
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”.
Updated information October 2023:
Following the publication of this article, the BeeWalk project has passed it’s 10 year anniversary, being launched to the public as a citizen science scheme in 2011. BeeWalk has continued to see growth, expanding to 833 transects walked by 743 BeeWalkers, submitting a total of 42,044 records in 2022.
Only two of the 24 bumblebee species found in the Britain show noticeable increases in abundance when looking at the growing BeeWalk dataset, with the majority of species remailing broadly stable.
Worryingly, some of the most common species have seen a broad decline. It’s not all bad news
though – having this information means that BeeWalk is being successful acting as an early alert
system for these species trends. The dataset is key to informing the design of the Bumblebee
Conservation Trust’s conservation efforts and our policy and advisory work, and is one method used to measure the success of conservation projects. You can find out more about how you could play a part making positive changes for bumblebees on the Trust’s website.
The Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s BeeWalk reports are published annually and can be found on www.beewalk.co.uk. Visit https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org for more information about bumblebees, and the Trust’s other projects.
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