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➤ Discovering how to bee a pollinator

Published on May 3, 2015, by in All, News and musings.

On Friday 13th March, as part of national science week, an event was held at the University of Sheffield ‘Discovery Night’, called “Precious Pollinators”. It gave us a chance to show some of the work related to the F3UES, Urban biodiversity project and let some local families buzz around the university, having fun, getting sticky and learning about bees. It also highlighted some of the key objectives of the BESS (Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services Sustainability) project.

skilled-demonstrator

Skilled bee impersonator at work!

meadow

The ‘meadows’

BESS researchers Briony Norton, Debbie Coldwell and Kate Orgill set up a clever pollinator game designed by other BESS PhD students in York. It involved dressing up as a bee (naturally) and taking a furry syringe to search out artificial flowers to collect ‘nectar’ (coloured water). The kids would suck up some nectar and return to deposit it in their honeybee hive or bumblebee nest. Some of the flowers also had floating glitter ‘pollen’ in the nectar, so the furry syringes would also transfer that from flower to flower. The kids would get awarded for successfully ‘pollinating’ and producing some fruit and also for fully stocking the hive. The families went away understanding that the bees aren’t deliberately pollinating the meadows, but the flowers are using them as their go-betweens in their reproduction. They also appreciated how important this insect delivery (ecosystem) service is in ensuring that beautiful meadows are pollinated and can flourish from year to year.

Microscopes and slideshows were also on hand to show a wider range of bees, wasps and ants (the ‘Hymenoptera’). These were collected from one of our research sites and included some incredibly tiny parasitic wasps which looked minute alongside the sting of a common social wasp.

wasps

Wasps under the microscope

Another activity called, ““Bringing bees back to the city”, involved a display of photographs from one of the Bedford meadow experiments. It showed four of the plots; 2 florally rich, one mown, the other left to grow tall, and 2 of just grass, again one cut low and one left tall. As a reflection of the questionnaires used on site, we asked the science week visitors which plots they preferred, but also, which they thought would be better for bees and other insects. As a practice for the general election they could cast a vote into the ballot boxes; one for them, one for the bees. The results of this quick straw poll were interesting. Apart from one or two kids who just wanted short grass everywhere, for playing football, a majority of people preferred the lush, long grass, followed some way behind by the florally rich, but short meadow. When asked, it seems that the swaying of long grass in the breeze was considered very pleasant. For the insects, the vast majority of votes went equally to the flower rich meadows, regardless of their length. After having been a bee for a while in the other activity, most visitors realised the importance of the nectar sources to the bees, as well as the bees to the nectar sources. When questioned further, the visitors were split about the value of the high structure providing shelter for insects and the low mowing to make the flowers more visible and accessible. Of course, both effects are important in the wild and different species have adapted to take advantage of both these alternatives in nature.

Although this little snapshot of opinion was just for fun, it was interesting to observe that many people do not just assess the different types of meadow simply by how ‘pretty’ it is. Many visitors were wanting to balance the aesthetic beauty, with the value for wildlife, the long term effect of the meadow through the year and even the financial implications of the different management schemes to achieve these effects. These are, in essence, the objectives of our research, which were well appreciated by the people who kindly offered their opinions to us at this essentially fun family event. With our meadow planting, we hope to gather much more rigorously the ‘opinions of the insects’; by identifying what actually lives there throughout the year, the opinions of the people; by directly talking to the people that actually encounter the meadows, and the ‘opinions of the managers’; the council staff that actually have to finance and undertake park maintenance. The combination of these ‘views’ should hopefully provide a valuable insight into the Biodiversity, the Ecosystem Services, and the Sustainability of future urban green spaces.

Briony Norton & Paul Richards

 
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