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Farmers help create ‘Virtual safe space’ to save bumblebees - University of Exeter

Solutions to help pollinators can be tested using a “virtual safe space” tool created by scientists at the University of Exeter in collaboration with farmers and land managers.

BEE-STEWARD is a decision-support tool which provides a computer simulation of bumblebee colony survival in a given landscape.

The tool lets researchers, farmers, policymakers and other interested parties test different land management techniques to find out which ones and where could be most beneficial for bees.

bumblebee in a purple foxglove flower
bumblebee in foxglove (image: Matthias. Becher)

BEE-STEWARD – which is freely available online – is a powerful tool that can make bumblebee survival predictions, according to a new study.

“We know that pollinator decline is a really big problem for crops and also for wildflowers,” said Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. BEE-STEWARD takes into account the many complicated factors that interact to affect bumblebees. This provides a virtual safe space to test out different bee-friendly management options. It’s a free, user-friendly tool and we have worked with land managers and wildlife groups on the ground to create it together.”

Disentangling the many factors that affect bumblebee colonies is incredibly complicated, meaning real-word testing of different methods by land managers is often not feasible.

This problem prompted the Exeter scientists to create the BEEHAVE (honeybees) and Bumble-BEEHAVE (Bumblebees) computer models. But to help bumblebees thrive across our landscapes, these tools need to be used by people on the ground and not just scientists.

BEE-STEWARD has been designed with and for land managers, farmers and conservation practitioners to test out different ideas for land management and predict the impact that these may have on bumblebee survival.

BEE-STEWARD is being used by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help test and guide land management to help bumblebees and farm business thrive in Cornwall. Using BEE-STEWARD, bee-friendly actions are being tested across 1,500 ha of land in collaboration with the Duchy of Cornwall Estate, the National Trust, Treiwthen Dairy and Kellys of Cornwall.

Read the research and find out more about the tool

Twiston-Davies, G., Becher, M. A., & Osborne, J. L. (2021). BEE-STEWARD: A research and decision-support software for effective land management to promote bumblebee populations. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.13673

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