Bumblebee watchers urged to help map UK species

Bumblebee BeeWatch is an online project

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Budding bumblebee enthusiasts are being encouraged to submit photographs to aid attempts to stem the decline in the species throughout the UK.

BeeWatch is an online project, led by the University of Aberdeen, that has already had more than 9,000 photographs submitted by members of the public.

A new online training tool allows them to identify the bees.

The project is aimed at creating a clearer picture of the distribution of bees around the country.

Such "crowdsourcing" presently accounts for only 5% of bumblebee submissions and project leaders hope this could be increased to almost half.

Dr Advaith Siddharthan, from the university's school of computing science, said: "To have crowdsourcing as an operational part of a monitoring programme is a world first.

"BeeWatch is, we think, unique in terms of having a statistical model for putting together IDs by different members of the public and estimating the likelihood of their consensus being correct."

The BeeWatch project, run in conjunction with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, was prompted by the decline of the country's bumblebee species as a result of habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices.

Officially identified

As some of nature's most important pollinators of both crops and wildflowers, bumblebees are seen as crucial to the country's ecosystems.

BeeWatch aims to address the lack of information about which bumblebee species occur and where, and how this may be changing over time.

A bumblebee is officially identified once a sufficient number of volunteers have identified it as the same species and a positive ID is reached when several members of the public allocate it to the same species.

If there is disagreement, the image is checked by a bumblebee expert. The project leaders said this process had been extremely accurate so far.

Project leader Dr Rene Van der Wal said: "This will allow far more pictures of bumblebees to be identified and thus create a far clearer picture of the distribution of bumblebee populations in the UK."

Anyone can register to help identify the bumblebees by signing up to the BeeWatch website.

The survey has also revealed information that supports a recent study by the University of London regarding the rise in populations of the tree bumblebee.

The BeeWatch survey has confirmed that the species unseen in the British Isles until 2001 is now one of the most common in the country.

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