Plant a bumblebee friendly garden with BeeWatch’s new online tool

bumblebee feeding on a flower
A new online tool is offering gardeners advice on the pollinator friendly plants that can turn their gardens into a haven for a variety of bumblebee species.

The interactive Planting for Pollinators tool, part of the citizen science project BeeWatch, is a collaborative venture between the University of Aberdeen, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) and the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS), with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Bumblebees in danger

Bumblebees, the wild cousin of the honey bee, are responsible for pollinating a wide range of plants, including important fruits and vegetables crops, like raspberries, potatoes and tomatoes. However, bumblebee numbers are in sharp decline. Changes in agricultural techniques have meant that there are far fewer wildflowers in the landscape than there used to be. As a result, of the 25 bumblebee species found in the UK, two are nationally extinct and many more are seriously threatened.

The Planting for Pollinators tool aims to increase awareness about the environmental needs of the different bumblebee species and offers practical recommendations on which flowers are attractive to these pollinators throughout the season. This gives you the opportunity to take simple positive actions that can increase the diversity of bumblebee species in your garden to benefit these important pollinators and the wider environment. 

Using the Planting for Pollinators tool, you can choose a bumblebee species and find out its favourite plant species. Users can also select a species already growing in their garden and identify which bumblebee species rely on this plant for pollen or nectar. There is even an option to list several plants in your garden to find out what bumblebee species to expect, when these plants are likely to be used by them, and when none of them provide sufficient feeding opportunity. For those flower poor periods, typically taking place later in summer, the tool offers suggestions on what plants could be added to your garden based on BeeWatch data.

Bee monitoring

BeeWatch has been run since 2010 by the University of Aberdeen and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to monitor bumblebees across the UK. Through BeeWatch members of the British public have submitted more than 13,000 photographs of bumblebees and had them identified as one of 22 species in the UK, either by experts or collaboratively by the BeeWatch community. This valuable information has allowed scientists to monitor the occurrence of different bumblebee species across the UK in a manner that would not be feasible without the public’s help.

BeeWatch already holds a wealth of information contributed by the community on which flowers bumblebees feed, giving a detailed picture of what plant species are preferred by which bumblebee species.

Professor René van der Wal, project co-ordinator at Aberdeen University, said: “We hope that more photo submissions of bumblebees and the plants they feed on will enable the ‘Planting for Pollinators’ system to grow and provide increasingly detailed feedback to users as well as enhancing our scientific understanding of the bumblebees found across the UK, and that the planting information will allow people to take positive action rather than just being overwhelmed by the many environmental concerns”.

Dr David Slawson, Director of OPAL, added: “It is fantastic to see the realisation of the Planting for Pollinators tool on BeeWatch and how OPAL partners from across the UK are taking part in outreach opportunities this spring to promote BeeWatch and citizen science activities related to pollinators.”

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen will be giving demonstrations of the tool to shoppers at the Mains of Drum Garden Centre today, and Dobbies Garden Centre on Sunday (March 26).

BeeWatch on BBC Radio Scotland

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In this interview on BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors, OPAL scientists Prof Rene van de Wal & Dr Annie Robinson discuss BeeWatch and why planting for pollinators makes a difference. Listen now (skip to 14'38)