Guest blog by Eloise Hedgecott
From an outside perspective of someone who knows embarrassingly little about bees, working alongside Prof Juliet Osborne’s bee research group for a week seemed rather a daunting prospect. Or so I felt on Monday, the beginning of my week of work experience in the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) at the University of Exeter.
After a morning introduction to the ESI building and some of its occupants, I met Beth Roberts – a super friendly PhD student who is spending some time looking at how badgers find and dig up underground bumblebee nests. Beth has been using the latest Bumble-BEEHAVE model to predict the effects of badger predation on bumblebee survival. She had previously buried pots containing bumblebee nest material (which is the stickiest thing I have ever touched), and then set up camera traps to see how frequently badgers manage to find the fake nests. Sorting through the camera trap footage took forever, mainly due to the amount of times cows decided to wander past and trigger a recording. But, every now and then we were rewarded when the cameras captured some footage of the badgers, (and they were a lot less scary on camera than when they jump out of a hedge, as Juliet will tell you).
Tuesday was dedicated to shadowing a ‘Women in Science’ outreach event aimed at 13 to 14 year olds. There were several sessions that the schoolchildren took part in covering topics including geology and engineering. I think that they all had a great time – hopefully they were encouraged to pursue their interest in science in the future!
On Wednesday, Dr Ros Shaw introduced me to one of her previous projects on the nesting habits of solitary bees. The investigation looked at a new ‘bee brick’ – a brick designed by Green and Blue that incorporates holes in which solitary bees such as leaf-cutting bees and mason bees can nest and lay their eggs. After making a vast collection of pie charts, I managed to briefly summarise what colour and height of brick the bees preferred, with some very interesting results.
After all this time indoors, Thursday brought an opportunity to experience some fieldwork alongside Ben Phillips– another PhD student looking at the significance of road verges as a habitat for pollinating insects. We spent the morning collecting pan traps which Ben had set up 48 hours previously, to see which insects were found in different areas. Some traps were placed on verges, some along hedgerows and some in the centre of fields to compare which insects frequent which areas. Afterwards, we had lunch on a cliff overlooking the sea, which was lovely, and Ben ate some more of his many sandwiches.
What has been surprising about working with the bee research group is how varied their work is. There has been something new and different to do each day. I’ve also learned how all the research that goes on is relevant to current events and has a huge range of important applications in the real world.
Spending the week here has been super interesting – everyone in the project has gone out of their way to be really friendly and informative. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and it’s been a very valuable experience – my knowledge of bees has certainly increased tenfold. And I’ve certainly had the full experience – what with sharing Juliet’s guestroom with a couple of hornet nests.
My name is Eloise Hedgecott and I’m 17 years old. I’m currently studying A-levels and I’m hoping to study biology at University. I’m potentially interested in a research career in the future.