Working with the Royal Horticultural Society at Harrogate’s Harlow Carr, 20 students, aged 11 to 17, have discovered more about the foraging behaviours of the insects by analysing pollen pellets and honey to determine which flowers and plants the bees have been feeding on. Industry specialists say the work they have done gives us hope for the future.
Students employed research methods pioneered by Northumbria University, in proper laboratory conditions to dissect flowers, analyse honey and separate pollen found in natural honey samples to identify it.
They presented their findings, which show how effective some of our garden flora – including foxgloves, dandelions and heather – is in providing natural resources for wildlife, to a panel of ten horticultural experts at Harlow Carr.
The results could help scientists understand more about the risks posed by pesticides in honey, as well as how to provide better habitats for bees.
The students also constructed a display which has been put on show in Harlow Carr’s Teaching Garden, for visitors to enjoy while learning about the project.
Chemistry teacher Caroline Dunne, who led the project, which is funded by the Research in Schools network, said: “It has been very exciting to do some real scientific research while also hopefully helping the bee population.”
She explained how students spent a few weeks doing a honey tasting investigation in order to gain a better understanding of the scientific process: “We also learnt how to do a scientific drawing and measure the sizes of pollen grains using an eyepiece graticule. For the main investigation, we worked with Matthew Pound from Northumbria University, who processed our samples for us and then sent them back for us to start to identify the pollen. We’re very excited that we got some positive matches.”
Harlow Carr curator Paul Cook described the year-long project as ambitious: “To see how enthusiastic and talented Ripon Grammar School students have been gives us all hope for the future,” he said.
RHS education officer Louise Taylor added: “The students gave a fantastic presentation to industry experts and it is obvious they put a lot of effort and time into their project and display. It’s great they were able to take part in some new, real-life research, the results of which will have an impact on practices in horticulture.
“We would like to thank them for all their hard work and for the newest edition to our Teaching Garden, which will prove popular with our visitors.”
*Essential for our food production, pollination by bees is worth £200million to British agriculture. But native bees have been in decline since the early 2000s, due to a combination of factors including loss of wildflower habitats, the use of pesticides and disease.