Students doing their bit to help save bees

SCIENCE students from Ripon Grammar School have presented their pioneering research work aimed at helping halt the decline in the bee population to a panel of experts.

The students, whose investigations into the foraging behaviours of the insects have been praised by horticultural specialists, also constructed a display which is on show in Harrogate's Harlow Carr Teaching Garden, for visitors to enjoy while discovering more about the project.

Working with the Royal Horticultural Society at Harlow Carr, 20 students aged 11 to 17 have examined pollen pellets and honey to determine which flowers and plants the bees have been feeding on, and experts say their results could have an impact on future horticultural practices.

Students employed research methods pioneered by Northumbria University, in proper laboratory conditions, to dissect flowers, separate pollen and analyse honey samples.

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.

Chemistry teacher Caroline Dunne, who led the project - 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.