Honey bees find richer diversity of pollen in urban areas

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The first set of results from pollen collected from beehives around the UK this summer indicate that bees foraging in urban locations are typically visiting a much wider range of flowers than those in rural areas. 

Bee Part Of It!Researchers at the University of Worcester have been analysing samples of pollen from 10 of the 45 hives involved in the Bee Part Of It! project, a joint initiative between the National Trust, BBC Local Radio and the University, to try and establish if there is any link between pollen and the health of the bees.  This research, conducted by the University's National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, was carried out between June and early August.

Professor John Newbury, Head of the University's Institute of Science and the Environment, said: "So far we have been analysing the pollen pellets carried back to the hives by foraging bees.  These provide a snap shot of what flowers the bees are feeding on at what time and where. 

“This is important because different flowers can provide different levels of nutrition.  We can also see if bees are feeding entirely on commercial crops which may make them more susceptible if there are any negative effects of agriculture sprays.”

At Kensington Palace in London, where the Duke of Gloucester, the University's Chancellor, is keeping bee hives, the samples contained large amounts of pollen from rockrose, eucalyptus and elderberry.

In suburban sites, such as the University of Worcester, there was a lot of pollen from lily, blackberry and rowan trees, but also some from oilseed rape. 

By contrast at some of the hives at rural National Trust locations, for example Nostell Priory in Yorkshire and Barrington Court in Somerset, the June samples were heavily dominated by oilseed rape with little other pollen types detectable.

At the end of the summer, honey samples will be analysed and these will provide a much broader picture of the plants visited during the summer season.  The bees will then be left to hibernate over the winter before further analysis into their health is carried out next spring. 

Matthew Oates, Nature Conservation Adviser at the National Trust, said: “These are interesting early findings, seemingly backing what we’ve suspected for a while - namely that bees today often fare better in urban environments than in contemporary farmland. 

“Apart from crops such as oil seed rape and field beans, there are precious few pollen sources around for bees and other insects in modern arable farmland, and surprisingly little in areas specialising in dairy, beef or sheep production.  Bees generally, though, are doing well this year due to the fine weather.”

The research highlights the continued success and growing reputation of the University of Worcester’s Institute of Science and the Environment, which recently was awarded additional places for this year’s science courses.

If you would like more information about studying Environmental Management, Physical Geography and Biology at the University this September call the clearing hotline on 01905 855 111 or email