Engaging volunteers with pollinator monitoring: Flower-Insect Timed Counts

Logo: UK Pollinator Monitor Scheme
Close up of a hoverfly on a thistle flower
Hoverfly on a thistle flower (Martin Harvey)

By Robin Hutchinson, Entomological Data Assistant, UKCEH

After last year’s drought and this year’s cold spring, many people are reporting seeing fewer insects than usual this year. Together with long-term occurrence records collated by the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society and Hoverfly Recording Scheme, the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) has been tracing the fortunes of pollinating insects. Through standardised counts and pan traps, we have been measuring the long-term trends in insect abundance since 2017, identifying where we should be focusing conservation efforts.

Flower-Insect Timed Counts (FIT Counts) are our key method for monitoring insect abundance at a group level. To take part, volunteers watch a 50cm by 50cm patch of flowers for 10 minutes, and count the number of insects that visit.

Images of phones showing the FIT Count App
The FIT Count app (UK PoMS)

Local groups are a fantastic source of consistent records. This helps to standardise the PoMS dataset, improving the accuracy of our modelled trends. Recently, we were delighted that FIT Counts were used to measure insect populations at the Royal Entomological Society garden at the Chelsea Flower Show! As well as contributing to a national dataset, FIT Counts provide great benefits to local groups. Here are just three of the reasons to promote FIT Counts in your area!

FIT Counts are accessible
Volunteers only need to identify the insects to group level (and we provide guides and videos for these groups), providing an easy entry point to insect identification. The counts also don’t require a large commitment from volunteers – one count only takes 10 minutes, and they can be completed anywhere so there is no travel required. Counts can be submitted through either our app or the website, allowing you and your volunteers to choose the method that best suits you.

Infographic pie chart showing insect group proportions
Chart showing proportions of the different insect groups that visit Hogweed flowers, based on FIT Count results to date (UK PoMS)

FIT Counts can be used to start a conversation about insects
Insects are an incredibly important part of our environment, but many people don’t know about their wonderful diversity, or what they need to survive. As FIT Counts do not focus on one particular group of insects, they are a great resource to use in explaining all of the different types of insects that can be pollinators. By looking at their interactions with flowers, we can start to explain how the environment affects pollinator populations. For example, we use the FIT Count data to produce donut charts for each of our 14 target flower species, which show how different insect groups are attracted to different flowers.

Group of people sitting in the grass during an insect count
Carrying out a FIT Count - ten minutes of relaxing insect-watching! (Martin Harvey)

FIT Counts are beneficial for your mental wellbeing
In a recent study, FIT Counts were one of two citizen science projects used in study that showed that citizen science projects improve mental well-being and nature connectedness. The citizen science projects also gave participants a sense that they were helping to take care of nature. Our volunteers say the same: in our 2022 survey, we found that 95% of participants agreed that they enjoyed carrying out our surveys, with one participant commenting that the best part about it was “taking a break, being in the moment and just noticing the small things". Why not give it a go and find out for yourself?

To find out more about the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, visit our website, or subscribe to our mailing list for the latest updates.

Logo: FIT Count
Logo: UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

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Posted On: 03/07/2023

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