Scientists aim to find what’s killing bees

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Experts at Edinburgh University are planting “urban meadows” across the city as part of a £1.3 million drive to better understand the decline in the number of bees.

With 15 sites currently helping protect vulnerable populations of bees, beetles and hoverflies, the academics say it is one of the widest studies of its kind ever.

Cornflowers, poppies, oxeye daisies, meadow buttercups and red campion are among the plant varieties which have been sown in meadows dotted throughout Edinburgh.

As well as providing colourful green spots for neighbourhoods, the meadows will act as pollen and nectar-rich wildlife corridors, allowing insects and other invertebrates to thrive.

Damien Hicks, research associate at Edinburgh University’s school of biology, said the scale of the project has been widened to include all insects that pollinate plants – not just bees.

He said: “There has recently been lots of research about how urban pollinators have been impoverished – the decline in honey bees is a particularly well-known example. We’ve seen massive urbanisation, which is ongoing and swallowing up lots of the countryside.

“But this project isn’t just about bees – there are a huge number of other insects, from pollen beetles to hover flies, that need pollen to survive.”

Mr Hicks said his team is working with counterparts from Bristol, Leeds and Reading universities to drive the 
UK-wide project forward.

He said a key element of the research would be DNA bar-coding, with cutting-edge data gathering techniques used to build up a detailed profile of every pollinating species in the city.

“What we’re doing now with the urban meadows is introducing a strip of plants that has been specifically designed to provide the nectar and pollen needed by insects,” he said.

“We’re probably collecting more data on this than has ever been collected before. It’s about looking at the whole community of plants and animals and, from that point, understanding how robust it is and how 
sensitive it is to disturbance.”

The progress of the project has been welcomed by city environment chiefs. Councillor Lesley Hinds, environment leader, said: “Finding out what works best for both pollinators and people is giving us knowledge about how we can create attractive and resilient living landscapes across many of our parks and green spaces.”

Bee havens

• Pilrig Park

• St Mark’s Park

• Saughton Park

• Joppa Quarry Park

• St Katharine’s Park

• Montgomery St Park

• Corstorphine Hill

• Jewel Park

• Hailes Quarry Park

• Firrhill School

• West Pilton Park

• Davidson’s Mains Primary School

• Cairntows Park

• Sighthill Park

• Inch Park