Buff tailed bumblebee on French marigolds

What happens to the data from the Great British Bee Count?

14 Aug 2017
The Great British Bee Count 2017 is over, so what happens next? Rory Dimond, our Scientific Advisor, shares the highlights and explains the next stage - how we make your data useful for science.

What you spotted – the highlights

Thousands of you spent 6 busy weeks collecting valuable information about bees, and were inspired to help bees in other ways too – from growing bee-friendly plants to signing our petition to protect bees from pesticides.

Bee-counters spotted almost every bee type on the app (except the rare Shrill carder bee) and a variety of species besides, such as the Small scissor bee Chelostoma campanularum, Four-banded flower bee Anthophora quadrimaculata and various mining bees. 

Unsurprisingly, most records came from gardens and allotments, and flowering cropland and lowland heaths were among the top 5 habitats for bee sightings on average. 

Rory Dimond, Scientific Advisor, Great British Bee Count
Rory Dimond, Scientific Advisor, Great British Bee Count

Bee-ginners to the bees' knees

We're grateful to all 16,282 of you who took part in this year's Great British Bee Count. Whether you were a complete bee-ginner, or the bees' knees, 94% of participants felt they learned more about bees by getting involved.*

I've been delighted to see you learning about less common species too. We received over 4,500 records of the lesser-known solitary bees, such as mason bees, leafcutters and mining bees, many of them from your garden bee hotels.

We hope that you will continue to look out for bees in all their amazing diversity, and appreciate the importance of wild solitary bees and bumblebees.

 The Great British Bee Count is a great way of getting to know your garden bees a bit better, opening the door on a fascinating world waiting to be discovered.

Kate Bradbury, The Telegraph

Special bee sightings

This year we received several positive records of rare and unusual bees, including a Long-horned bee from Surrey.

These are found only in a couple of dozen sites in the UK, most of which are coastal, but this male was spotted in a garden feeding on chives.

Long horned bee on chive flower
Long horned bee on chive flower
Credit: Flora Lingfield / Great British Bee Count

 

Other interesting sightings included 2 species which are declining in the UK – a Bilberry bumblebee Bombus monticola spotted in the Cairngorms, and several Moss carder bees Bombus muscorum.

The Pantaloon bee Dasypoda hirtipes, a species usually associated with sandy heaths, coastal dunes and acid grasslands, was recorded in a suburban green space in Ipswich.

Taking action for bees

It's encouraging to know that the Great British Bee Count has helped to foster an appreciation of bees among so many nature-lovers. Hopefully we have inspired you to take small steps that will make a lasting difference to wild bees in our gardens and green spaces.

Typically, people who took part this year were inspired to grow bee-friendly plants, put up a bee hotel, leave the lawn to grow longer and stop using pesticides.

Interestingly, they also talked about bees with their friends, and posted on social media – easy but important ways to help spread the word.

Data verification — why it matters

This year we've made some improvements to make your data even more useful. Together with new features on the app which collected more detail about bees and their habitats, we have also been changing how we process and verify your records.

The Great British Bee Count encourages people of all abilities to take part, from beginners to bee experts, so it’s only natural that there are a few mistakes as people get to grips with identifying bees with the app. In order to make sure the data is useful to bee researchers, the records are verified to ensure the bees have been identified correctly.

In previous years, we have relied on external experts and organisations such as Buglife to verify the records, but summer is understandably a busy time for bee experts. This year, I joined the Bee Count team to start to verify records in-house. This has allowed us to cover a greater volume in a shorter time.

Verification can be repetitive but it's essential – and viewing your bee photos is one of the perks of the job. It’s never a bad day at the office when you’re looking at such a variety of beautiful bees, many of which are charming and some simply amazing.

I really enjoy seeing your bee-friendly garden planting and bee hotels in action. Even the ones that are a bit blurry tell a story – someone somewhere cares enough about the future of bees to accept the challenging job of trying to photograph one.

By verifying your submissions, we generate robust data that can be compared or combined with records from experts. This adds to the data and can be used to evaluate changes in the distribution of bees over time, for example in response to impacts like climate change and pesticides.

Coastal leafcutter bee male - Jonni Price
Coastal leafcutter bee male
Credit: Jonni Price / Great British Bee Count

Busy bee volunteers

Fortunately I don’t have to verify all the bees myself, since we have recruited and trained a team of excellent Data Volunteers to help verify the most distinctive bees.

It’s amazing how many photographs of bees have been submitted with the Great British Bee Count app. Verifying them gives you a real sense of engagement with nature and these wonderful creatures.

 

Debra, Great British Bee Count data volunteer

I’m really impressed with how quickly they have learned to identify the different bee species, from separating bees and hoverflies, and honeybees from solitary bees, as well as getting to grips with common bumblebees.

I enjoy each minute of volunteering for Friends of the Earth and I feel I'm contributing to a really worthwhile project. The Great British Bee Count has helped me understand that bees are not a commodity, but a vital part of our environment. I particularly love seeing photos of the Early bumblebee males with their punky hair styles!

 

Jerry, Great British Bee Count data volunteer

The dedication of our volunteers means we can verify hundreds of records a day, something we are very grateful for in light of the huge volumes of photos that are submitted. These records will then be triple-checked before they are submitted.

Early bumblebee on French lavendar
Early bumblebee on French lavendar
Credit: Emily Doorish / Great British Bee Count

Where do the records go?

After verifying the records we will submit them to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas, an online library of species records from the UK, where they will be filed in perpetuity alongside other bee records from across the country. 

We will also be sending relevant records to Buglife (one of our partners on the bee count) to provide data that will help their Urban Buzz work restoring pollinators to cities, and their ambitious B-Lines project to create a network of wildflower corridors to conserve pollinators across the UK.

 

Tree bumblebees in bird box
Tree bumblebees in bird box
Credit: Simon Peacock / Great British Bee Count

How does this help bees?

The records on the National Biodiversity Network Atlas will be made freely accessible to ecologists, academic researchers, environmental decision-makers and even the curious public, providing information on the distribution of different bee species across our islands.

This data can be used to assist research on bee declines, their range shifts in response to climate change and to inform local authorities on the importance of green spaces for bee conservation.

Your sightings from this year help give a snapshot, but more importantly, they form part of a jigsaw. By contributing to the long-term data on bees and other pollinators gathered by people across the country, the information you submitted will be adding new dots to the map of bee distributions.

Past records can be biased towards specific places such as nature reserves or rare species hotspots, so every bee you spot in your garden or local park can broaden our knowledge of where they live.

Find out why we need more information about bees.

Bees are not just for summer

You can continue to use the app all year round to help you identify and learn more about different species – or use this Bee identification guide

Find out more about the bees spotted near you this year on our Great British Bee Count map and try these bee-friendly gardening tips to give you the best chance of spotting bees next year.

Right now, bees need your help to support a ban on pesticides.

Please sign our petition to ban neonicotinoid pesticides.

*Sample size 976 individuals.