Last weekend bee, wasp and ant enthusiasts from all over Britain congregated at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society AGM and Conference. I really enjoyed the event and felt very welcome. The society is made up of a good mix of older and younger people, men and women and experts and novices. The aim of this blog post is to give you my personal outlook on the event. I did tweet during the event at #BWARSAGM , but the signal was patchy, so hopefully this blog will be a more extensive summary.
The event started on Saturday with some workshops and a lot of talking and catching up with one another.
The first workshop of the day was on tiny bees known as micro-andrena. To see just how small these bees are, I photographed this micro-andrena last year on a daisy flower! These bees are also notoriously tricky to identify. Therefore Mike Edwards was on hand to help us identify these tricky bees and I am now more confident in trying to tackle the identification of these bees. Mike is publishing a book, along with George Else, in the next year or so. This will be THE definitive guide to bee identification… I had better start saving now.
After a tea break the Chrysididae workshop kicked off, these are tiny and colourful little parasitic wasps and another group that are often seen as being tricky to identify. I often only get fleeting glimpses of these lovely creatures so it was lovely to learn more about them and see the diversity that this family contains. Michael Archer (BWARS president) is currently writing an updated key to this group.
The majority of the morning was made up by the BWARS AGM, the highlight of this was the report by Stuart Roberts. Stuart stepped down as the chairman of BWARS on Saturday after 10 years and gave us a roundup of the last 10 years and the amazing influence that he has had on the society. I owe a huge amount of thanks to Stuart for all that he has done for me. He has helped nurture my love of bees and wasps and helped me with my dissertation. I remember a conversation with my entomology lecturer at university. I said I wanted to study solitary bees for my dissertation and he almost laughed in my face, saying that I would never be able to study them as they are too hard to ID. Stuart didn’t agree and has supported my interests ever since. We first met when he was leading a bee walk for the Reading University BioBlitz, here it gave me a chance to see the expert at work. Engaging with the public and getting people enthusiastic about bees including catching male bees and showing people them close up and describing how they sometimes smell of lemon. As lovers of nature I feel we are duty bound to do what we can to share knowledge and enthuse others.
Stuart spoke about how BWARS is now internationally recognised as a role model for how to study and engage people with bees, wasps and ants (I am very happy to play a small and insignificant part in that). He showed us maps of where visitors to the BWARS website come from, suprisingly they’re located all over the world and only c60% of hits come from people in Britain. BWARS also has a number of members who live abroad and are sent our publications by post. The website however is the main point of outreach with the wider world, with 136000 hits on the website so far this year, amazing! The point of the website is to inform people about this amazing creatures and to encourage them to record their sightings. These sightings then go on to inform conservation measures in Britain, Europe and beyond. This is great but there is a long way to go yet as 60% of species in Europe assessed in the IUCN red list of bees were data deficient, meaning we don’t know how well they are doing! All this data also needs verifying to in order to maintain its value in research. Stuart has verified over 20000 online bee records and is just one of the verification team! Jeremy Early is now the chairman of BWARS and has big shoes to step into.
David Roy: ‘The Biological Records Centre – valuing your data’
Next David Roy, head of the Biological Records Centre, spoke about their work and highlighted some of the uses for BWARS data. He highlighted how the BRC are just as much about people as they are data and commended BWARS on their outward facing approach. It was interesting to see just how many uses there are for data on bees, wasps and ants, informing conservation measures including; climate change mitigation, distribution mapping, invasive species modelling etc. The BRC has just celebrated its 50th year and produced this publication highlighting their achievements.
Matt Smith: BWARS on Social Media
We are living in a world which is becoming more technologically advanced every year. In order to continue to thrive BWARS must adapt and take advantage of new technologies. Social media has taken off dramatically in the last few years and BWARS has recognised that it must take advantage of this. The general public takes thousands of photos of bees, ants and wasps each year and these are posted onto Twitter and Facebook. Although on average only 9% of bees, wasps and ants can be identified confidently from an average photo, this is still a huge untapped dataset. It was decided last last that the main BWARS Facebook Page needed bringing back to life so a group of us, including myself, have been working on that. This page is for highlighting research and interesting articles, but is not a place for identifying others finds and generating data. Therefore a Facebook group has been created, this is ran by Matt Smith and people can post photos for identification, in the hope that they then post their sightings onto iRecord so that this data can be used. This group has over 2800 members and anyone can contribute knowledge and help with identifications. BWARS also has a Twitter account.
It is mainly common, easily recognisable species that are posted on these pages. However these species are only common at the moment and without robust data they may decline without us knowing. Every single record counts! A number of rare species have been posted too, which is rather exciting and a great example of citizen science in action. Photographers are also capturing behaviour never seen before, increasing the amount we know about the ecology of species. This all goes onto inform the species profiles on the BWARS website.
Louise Hislop: ‘An amateur perspective from Northumberland 2015’
So far the talks had been rather scientific and high level, so it was nice to hear a different perspective from Louise Hislop. Like me, Louise is rather new to bees, wasps and ants, so it was interesting to see her perspective on things. She has redesigned her front garden to provide nesting and floral resources for as many species as possible and this has been very successful, allowing her to record a number of species not previously recorded in the area before. They have probably been in the area for a long time, just there has been a lack of people able to record these species. This just goes to show that a little knowledge goes a long way!
Markus Sydenham: ‘Wild bees in artificial landscapes – Drivers of bee diversity in power line clearings’
This next talk showed a completely different perspective on bee research. Markus researches bees in Norway. In Norway the landscape is crossed with power lines and associated clearings. These are clear felled every 5 to 10 years for safety reasons and happen to act as corridors for wildlife. Markus is completing a doctorate on the bees found in these power line clearings and through his research now advises the power line companies on how to manage these clearings to support bees more effectively. He has found that the felled trees need to be cleared in some areas to create bare earth for nesting bees, but in other areas should be left to facilitate wood nesting bee species. He has found a number of rare species during his research so is contributing to distribution research too. It was lovely to speak to Markus about his research and all the cool things he gets up to in Norway.
Thomas Wood: ‘An update on how agri-environment schemes benefit bee populations’
Thomas spoke at last years BWARS event about his doctorate research on how agri-environment schemes benefit bee populations. I don’t want to say too much about his research until it is published, but some interesting facts highlighted from previous research by others include:
- Larger bees are declining faster than smaller species (larger species need more floral resources)
- Bigger bumblebees can forage further
- Large bumblebee colonies have to forage further
John Walters on snail shell nesting bees
John Walters is an ecologist and artist. If you haven’t seen John’s artwork before then do check it out! John spoke about his time watching snail nesting Osmia species, of which we have 3 in Britain. John has spent many happy hours watching these bees, recording their behaviour and contributing to the knowledge that we have about the ecology of these species.
Steven Falk on his Flickr page
Finally Steven Falk spoke about his new book coming out soon which will be a great introductory guide to bees, and his Flickr page which is a great resource in itself!
All in all it was a great event and I look forward to next years event!