Wednesday 5 November 2014

Where are they now?

After three years the Urban Pollinators Project finally came to a close in October 2014. Since its inception almost 40 researchers and staff members in four cities across the UK have been involved in designing and implementing this huge project.  Publications and other outputs from the project will be published in the coming months so watch this space for further information!

From start to finish the project has employed four principal investigators, a project manager/postdoctoral researcher, a GIS expert, five research technicians and 28 field assistants.  Staff have spent three wonderful summers walking hundreds of transects in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh, collecting thousands of plant and pollinator records in order to answer their three main research questions.   

Edinburgh Team 2011
Bristol Team 2011
Reading Team 2011

Leeds Team 2011

The BBC interviews Principal Investigator Jane Memmott about the project in 2011

Project 'get together' 2011

Project team and practitioner partners 2011

Kath Baldock has managed the project from the beginning
Damien, Lynne, Nadine and Mark the project research technicians from the four cities
Helen took over from Lynne at the end of the 2013 field season

Edinburgh Team 2012

Reading Team 2012
Bristol Team 2012
Leeds Team 2012

Laura and Ryan from the Bristol team 2013
Reading team 2013

Bristol team 2013

Edinburgh team 2013 sporting their new Urban Pollinators Project T-shirts

So now that the project has finished, what has happened to everyone who has contributed over the last three years?  Here's a little insight into some of the amazing things that our project staff have gone on to do after their time here.

Project Manager

Kath has recently been awarded a three year NERC Knowledge Exchange fellowship at the University of Bristol which she started in November 2014.  She will be working on knowledge exchange activities related to the research carried out during the Urban Pollinators Project.

Research Technicians

Mark is a Research Associate on the SUCCESS project (Sustainable Urban Carbon Capture:  Engineering Soils for Climate Change) at Newcastle University.  His role involves designing and implementing field experiments to investigate the botanical and invertebrate ecology of urban land designed to have a carbon capture function.

Nadine Mitschunas 

Nadine is working as a Field Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Wallingford.  Her role includes plant surveying, data entry and processing samples in the lab.   

Damien Hicks 

Damien continues to work at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently researching meadow scale floral resources and DNA barcoding of pollinators.

Lynne Osgathorpe 

Lynne is currently working as the RSPB’s lead on ecosystem services. As Ecosystem Services Officer she is helping to turn the science and policy surrounding this complex subject area into delivery on the ground through the RSPB’s and their partners conservation work across the UK and abroad. Although now in an office job, Lynne is still a lover of pollinators and is frequently found chasing bumblebees around the gardens at the RSPB’s HQ, much to her colleagues amusement.

Helen Morse

Helen is still employed as a Research Technician on the Urban Pollinators Project at the University of Bristol until the end of November. After this she will be involved in an exciting new project called ‘Come Dine with Bee’ which will help gardeners and urban land managers to provide the best garden plants for pollinators based on pollen and nectar availability.

Field Assistants


Jasmine King, 2011                                    Secondary School Science Teacher

Olivia Norfolk, 2011                                    PhD student, University of Nottingham

Ben Jarrett, 2012                                        PhD student, University of Cambridge

Clare Grey, 2012                                        PhD student, Queen Mary’s, London

Laura Riggi, 2013                                       PhD student, Uppsala University, Sweden

Ryan Harris, 2013                                       Assistant Ecologist, Abbas Ecology, Dorset

Phil Cannard, 2013                                     University of the West of England


Peter Harris 2011,12,13                             Based near Oxford, researching age related diseases in nematode worms

Mark Otieno, 2011                                      Postdoctoral Research Associate, Penn State University, USA

Sam Cartwright, 2012                                 Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Reading

Ellen Moss, 2013                                        PhD student, University of Hull

Richard Comont, 2013                               Data Monitoring Officer at the Bumblebee Conservation 



Kirsty Robertson, 2011,12,13                     Places for people, Leeds

Joe Hicks, 2011                                          PhD student, University of Leeds

Mel Stone, 2012                                         Field Assistant, Game and wildlife conservation trust

Victoria Williams, 2013                               Primary school teacher 

Liz Elliot, 2013                                            Education Officer, National Trust, Newcastle


Sally Donaldson, 2011                                Senior Ecologist at APEM, Penicuik

Juan Carlos Ruiz Guajardo, 2011               Postdoctoral Researcher, UC Davies, USA

Tom Godfrey 2011,                                     PhD student, University of Edinburgh

Desponia Roumpeka, 2012                        MSc Biochemistry, University of Edinburgh

Kasia Mikolajczak, 2012                             PhD student, University of Oxford

Maria Osterbauer, 2012                              MSc student, Austria

Pierre Ouvard, 2012,13                              PhD student, University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Frazer Sinclair, 2012, 13                             Postdoc, RSPB, Sierra Leone

Manon Majani, 2013                                   BSc student, University of Edinburgh

Vasanthakrishnan Radhakrishnan, 2013    Postdoctoral Researcher, France

Morgane Saynac, 2013                               BSc student, France

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Bee & Pollination Festival

Last weekend saw the community ecology research group set off on their annual pilgrimage to the Botanical gardens to take part in the Bee & Pollination Festival.  Stallholders from all corners of the pollination world came together to educate and inspire people.  From bee keepers to cider producers, allotment holders to seed producers, the weekend was a resounding success with thousands of people attending the festival over the two days.

The University of Bristol Botanical Gardens

The focus of our stand this year was solitary bees and the team put in a huge amount of effort answering questions and talking to members of the public about the plight of our pollinators and what they can do do help.

Our stand ready and waiting for the public

Both the Saturday and Sunday passed in a bit of a haze as thousands of people descended on the marquee eager to see our insect collections and learn how to make a solitary bee hotel. We were even able to cater for many overseas visitors thanks to Alfredo who was able to answer questions in Spanish from the Argentinian couple below and our Brazilian team member Carine who could help out the Portugese speaking people.

Talya and Alfredo talk to members of the public about bumblebees

Naomi answers questions from a member of the public

Getting very busy!

Sam, Ellie and Hannah chat to members of the public about solitary bees

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Making Leeds a pollinator-friendly city

Following the success of the Urban Pollinators Project flower meadows in Leeds in 2013 (for a reminder see here and here) you may have been wondering what's been happening over the past 12 months.

The good news is that many of the project flower meadows have been retained and some have even been enlarged.   The City Council have retained two perennial meadows in Leeds, one in Burley Park and the other in Stanhope Recreation Ground.  Although they haven't been quite as spectacular as last year, they are still proving popular with pollinators and people.

Perennial meadow in Burley Park, Leeds, including yarrow and knapweed

Perennial meadow in Stanhope Recreation Ground, Leeds, with lady's bedstraw, oxeye daisy, birdsfoot trefoil and knapweed

Of the 10 annual meadows that were created across Leeds in 2013, seven have been resown in some capacity again this year.  Some of these have been sown with the same seed mix as last year, while others are being converted to perennial meadows which may be a more sustainable long term option.  The City Council have also introduced some flower patches in new locations, including Rodley Park and Penny Pocket Park.

Common poppy flowering amongst the gravestones in Penny Pocket Park, Leeds city centre

The local community in Alwoodley, North Leeds, were so keen on the meadow that they hosted in 2013 that a whole series of new plots have been created along King Lane this year.  These new meadows will provide a network of floral resources that will enable bees and other pollinators to move through the urban landscape.  The annual meadow along the Ring Road in Seacroft has also been retained and extended, while the annual meadow in Middleton Park is beginning to flower again very nicely.

Our favourite shaped annual meadow in Middleton Park, Leeds, with a smattering of cornflowers

In addition to the flower meadows, there are a number of other initiatives underway aiming to make Leeds a better place for pollinators.  In collaboration with Buglife, Friends of the Earth and Natural England, we have formed Bee-Friendly Leeds and we are actively working with community groups across the city to restore wildlife sites and create new habitats.  Leeds City Council are exploring ways of managing road verges more sympathetically for pollinators and the wild plants on which they depend, and here at the University of Leeds the Sustainability Garden continues to provide an oasis of colour in an otherwise grey and lifeless part of the campus.

The Sustainability Garden at the University of Leeds
Although the Urban Pollinators Project is coming to an end, research continues across Leeds on the best way to manage our urban habitats for pollinating insects as we seek to reconcile the requirements of wildlife in the city with what people need from their urban green spaces.   

Monday 23 June 2014

Perennial Meadows in Bristol

Two of our most successful perennial meadows from last year, Horfield Common and Stoke Bishop Halls have burst into flower in the last two weeks and are now sporting a beautiful array of wildflowers.  

Perennial Meadow at Horfield Common, June 2014

Perennial Meadow at Stoke Bishop Halls, June 2014

At Horfield Common  the composition of flowers has changed greatly from last year.  In 2013 the meadow was awash with Ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) in the early stages, followed by Musk mallow (Malva moschata), Black knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Carrot (Daucus carota).  This year there has been a more even spread of species across the meadow, with some such as Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) Field scabious (Knautia arvensis) and Lady's bedstraw (Galium verum) found throughout the meadow rather than in small, isolated patches.

At Stoke Bishop Halls the Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) has spread across the meadow creating an explosion of yellow amongst the Ox-eye daisies.

Lady's bedstraw (Galium verum)
Rough hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus)
Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)  
Honeybee (Apis mellifera) 
Tufted vetch (Vicia cracca)
Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica)
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris)
Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum
Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
A hoverfly on Carrot (Daucus carota)
Male Red tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius)
Conopid flies, bumblebee parasites
An Earwig enjoying a Mallow flower
Fat-legged beetle (Oedemera nobilis)

Friday 13 June 2014

Urban Jungle: Life on a University Campus

Bristol University is, like many other universities, a city centre campus made up of numerous faculty buildings; tall concrete and glass structures filling the skyline above the city.  Below the skyline these buildings are interspersed with tarmac roads, paved walkways and brick walls.  You might think that it would be difficult to find a high diversity of wildlife living amongst this, but look a little closer and you can find an amazing array of species all exploiting the many small patches of habitat spread across the campus, from a single bumblebee on a willowherb growing through a crack in a wall, to a scurry of squirrels racing across the treetops with their mouths stuffed full of hazelnuts.

Around the campus, many of the grassy areas are regularly mown but sections are also left longer to provide habitat for insects.  

'Say no to the mow' 
The edges of this grassy area have deliberately been left longer for wildlife.

Amongst the grass and wildflowers numerous invertebrates go about their daily business.  The flies and bees foraging on the pollen and nectar from the wildflowers, the ladybirds preying upon the unsuspecting aphids while the Ichneumon wasps lurk in the  foliage below waiting for a poor unsuspecting host to pass by.

Fly feeding on a Buttercup
Fly resting on the buttercup leaves in the long grass
Ladybird searching for aphids amongst the foliage
Merodon equestris feeding on Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris sp.)
Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) feeding on Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Just off the main road, Royal Fort Gardens is a 0.1 hectare oasis nestled amongst the faculty buildings.  For most of the day the gardens are calm and tranquil, and if you just sit quietly on one of the many secluded benches you won’t have to wait for long before the wildlife begins to make an appearance.

A Robin making short work of an earthworm
The resident squirrels can often be seen and heard chasing each other across the treetops 
Bombus terrestris foraging on Catmint 
Eristalis sp. feeding on an Asteraceae flower
Cuckoo spit from the Froghopper nymph hangs from the Lavender
One of many Mullein moth caterpillars (Shargacucullia verbasci) feeding on Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) 
A bumblebee (Bombus terrestris or lucorum) foraging on a dandelion 
'What's that coming over the hill ? I didn't notice the little fellow on the left creeping over the top of the Foxglove until the next morning!

If you’d prefer to keep moving, a short walk around the gardens can reveal the most wonderful flowering plants.

Japanese Iris (Iris variegata)
Mock strawberry (Fragaria indicia), looks much better than it tastes!
Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima)
Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Within the gardens this small pond is teeming with life.  Dragonflies and damselflies dart back and forth above the water, pond skaters skim across the surface while bumblebees forage on the Iris’s around the edge.

The small pond comes alive when the sun comes up.
Cardinal beetle
Hoverfly on vegetation above the pond
Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
Solitary bee resting on a Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)
Sawfly (Tenthredinidae)
A bumblebee reaches into a Yellow iris with its tongue to drink the nectar at the base of the flower.
Sometimes it pays to look up instead of down.  The conifer trees above the pond were full of pollinators especially bumblebees and hoverflies.  

 Hoverfly displaying its aerial prowess while checking me out from above.

Outside the garden is Cantocks Steps, the entrance to the School of Medicine. The steps themselves are just the usual paved slabs but either side has been sculpted into a wonderful arid garden and planted with a wealth of pollinator friendly plants.  As you walk down the steps you can’t help but turn your attention to the numerous pollinating insects flitting from flower to flower.

Cantocks Steps
A Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) foraging on Catmint
A Tree bee (Bombus hypnorum) on Catmint
This Turkish sage (Phlomis russeliana) provides a food source for the more specialist long-tongued bees such as this Common carder bee (Bombus pascuorum).  
And this Garden bee (Bombus hortorum)
But it also proved popular with the Harlequin ladybirds (Harmonia axyridis) and their larvae that covered the leaves and flowers in large numbers.
Helophilus pendulus 
A hoverfly rests in the shade
This bumblebee has had enough of me sticking a camera in its face and is telling me in no uncertain terms to 'back off'