Last month, just at the very end, I discovered that Friends of the Earth were in the middle of running a citizen science project called the ‘Great British Bee Count‘. It is an initiative to raise public (and subsequently government) awareness of the role of pollinators and their recent decline. Count participants could download a simple, free phone app that allowed numbers of bees and bumblebees to be recorded, together with a location.
Recorded sighting will apparently be verified (? not sure exactly what this means, although submissions included phone photos) and will feed into a new official national insect monitoring scheme.
Simple geocoded bee IDs give valuable information about the on-going spread of some key species and the optional timed counts should pinpoint important plants to these pollinators.
So I downloaded the app, studied the identification information (as well as you can in theory) and headed to the garden to count some bees. Interestingly, rather than getting you to input precise species for some bumblebees, you were asked to classify them into grouped types, e.g. banded white-tailed species (buff-tailed, white-tailed, garden and heath bumblebees), red-tailed black species (red-tailed, red-tailed cuckoo, red-shanked carder bumblebees), then distinct species for Early, Tree and Brown Carder bumblebees, together with honey bees and various solitary and mining bees.
Almost in real time the sightings were added to an online map and, for whatever reason, that made the whole thing seem real and more satisfying.
I do find the identification of the banded white-tailed bumblebees a tricky task, with there being three different classes (male,worker and queen) for each species and then variations in band colour and density within that. So I was happy that I was allowed to be a bit vague by choosing a group, rather than species, in their tick-box criteria.
Sadly, the active input part of that project is now over (last entries were on 30th June) and I am guessing that the verification stage is now under way.
Well, that was fun, but what’s a citizen scientist to do now?
Happily, the annual BIG Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation re-starts on 14th July and runs until early August, so there is not too long to wait for my next counting fix. Plus I feel much more confident in IDing butterflies.
Will you be counting too?