Plight of the bumblebee


The ecological importance of bumblebees has become more widely appreciated in recent years, thanks to environmental campaigners and reports of species decline, and even some extinctions, in the UK.

To look at this issue, we have recently teamed up again with arts-science organisation Pale Blue Dot, which is launching a new research project to investigate why some species of bumblebee are declining and to raise awareness about the ultimate impact this has on people.

Here, Pale Blue Dot co-founder Jane King explains how the Bees & Weeds project brings together art students, public engagement, the Museum’s collections and a leading bumblebee scientist…


On 9 September we launched our latest project – Bees & Weeds – with the Museum of Natural History, building on our previous collaboration for the Lost & Found exhibition. We were joined by over 50 art students from Banbury & Bicester College to highlight the plight of the bumblebee, revealing how its decline is impacting everything from what we eat to where we live and work.

Amoret Spooner displays drawers from the collections
Amoret Spooner displays drawers from the collections

The students spent some time looking at methods of insect labelling and notation, before heading behind the scenes with entomologist Amoret Spooner to the Huxley Room, the location of the Great Debate on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which took place in 1860.

Amoret provided an insight into taxonomy – the science of species classification – as well as her work on the conservation of specimens. We visited the huge archive of bee specimens and learnt about some of the research that scientists are currently carrying out on UK bumblebee species to help prevent further decline.

Student sketches of labelling and notation
Student sketches of labelling and notation

During spring 2015, the art students from the Banbury & Bicester College, as well as students from Oxford Brookes University, will make and install hundreds of cycle seat covers on bikes in and around the Oxford city. The seat covers will carry messages about bumblebee decline in the UK countryside, showing how much we depend on their pollination services, which far outstrip those of the honeybee in their value to UK food production.

We are also working with Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex, one of the world’s most important bumblebee scientists. He will present his research showing how well bumblebees are doing in gardens compared to the countryside, as well as the optimum range of flowering plants needed to help them thrive. Dave’s book, A Sting in the Tale, is already a best-seller, and the sequel – A Buzz in the Meadow – was published on 4 September.

Dave will also be speaking about his new book at the Museum on Thursday 9 October at 7pm. Book your tickets for that via Waterstones here.

Artwork from the Bees & Weeds project, together with cycle seat covers and bike paraphernalia, will be on show and for sale in the Old Fire Station in Oxford from next spring. If you cycle in Oxford, you may be lucky enough to receive one!

Pale Blue Dot is an arts-science organisation helping scientists to communicate their research to the public. It promotes an interdisciplinary approach to learning, living and working through exhibitions, publications and happenings.

Jane King – co-founder, Pale Blue Dot

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