Latest news on BEEHAVE and the BEEHAVE suite of models

BEE-STEWARD is published!

Its been a while, but the BEEHAVE team have been busy creating a research and conservation tool to support pollinator survival which is finally published and available for download-  our BEE-STEWARD tool!

Everyone, well, almost everyone, loves honey – that sweet, liquid gold laboriously collected by busy bees from countless little flowers. But of course, much more important than honey or wax or even cosmetic royal jelly products are the pollination services that bees provide to wildflowers and crops. In this blog post, authors Matthias Becher, Grace Twiston-Davies & Juliet Osborne discuss their latest paper published in Methods in Ecology & Evolution,


Picture: the new BEE-STEWARD tool interface

Pollination is the effective transmission of pollen grains from one flower of a species to another flower of the same species, which enables fertilisation and finally seed production. Seed production allows the plants to reproduce – or humans to harvest them as energy-rich oilseeds or deliciously plump raspberries. No, humans would not die in a few years without bees – but our diets would be frustratingly dull.

While on the one hand, the demand for pollinating highly-profitable crops is on the rise, bee numbers, on the other hand, are on a dramatic decline. The loss of biodiversity caused by urbanisation and the intensification of modern agriculture leaves little nectar and pollen resources for pollinators to feed on. In addition to this nesting habitats are removed, excessive use of pesticides, and newly introduced parasites transmitting diseases take a further toll on pollinators.

When in the mid-noughties ‘CCD’ hit the headlines, this mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder made honeybee workers disappear from the hive, leaving only the queen and young nurse bees behind to die, the public became more and more aware of the problems bees are facing – and increasingly concerned.

While the focus was mainly on honeybees, we are now in a situation where wild bees also get the attention they deserve.  Especially bumblebees, those fluffy, colourful cuties, gain the publics sympathies. And thanks to their obvious stripe patterns, they are easy to identify, making them ideal subjects to citizen science projects like the UK’s Bee Walk survey scheme, organised by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. With their long tongues, willingness to forage at low temperatures, and capability to collect pollen by ‘buzz pollination’, bumblebees can be highly efficient pollinators. But like so many other insect species, their numbers have been declining since the mid-20th century. Therefore, it is essential to understand which stressors have the most devastating impact on their population sizes and which screws we might turn to improve their situation.

Although empirical work is indispensable for this purpose and more data is desperately needed, particularly on the spatial and temporal distribution of resources, large-scale field studies are highly time and money consuming. As an alternative, in silico experiments, i.e. simulations of complex systems using computer models, can provide valuable services and allow us to test a multitude of scenarios once they have been developed. For example, implementing the findings of a laboratory study to assess how individual effects may or may not scale up to affect the whole population.

Over the past ten years, we have developed a family of sophisticated bee models which try to capture the complexity of a social bee colony and its interaction with a heterogeneous and ever-changing environment. In 2014, we published BEEHAVE, an agent-based model of a single honeybee colony which can take forage resources, weather, varroa mites and viruses, and pesticide effects into account. We wanted this model to be freely available and easily accessible by everyone including researchers, laypersons, beekeepers, and NGOs, and hence decided to implement it in NetLogo. NetLogo is a free and user-friendly programming language that has been specifically developed with educational purposes in mind. Consequently, this model has since been applied by many research groups to study the impact of seasonal forage gaps, predation by Asian hornets, pesticide-induced bee mortalities and other factors. BEEHAVE was positively evaluated by an expert panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and subsequently is used by EFSA for simulating the background variability of honey bee colony sizes on a European scale.

Encouraged by the success of BEEHAVE we then developed Bumble-BEEHAVE a bumblebee counterpart of the original honeybee model, but addressing a whole population of bumblebee colonies and simulating their fate over many years. However, unlike the one Western honeybee species Apis mellifera, there are 24 bumblebee species in the UK alone and ca. 250 worldwide. Also, bumblebees show far less flower constancy than honeybees and due to their smaller colonies, smaller food patches may also be of more importance. This made it necessary to take flower resources in greater detail into account, as was the case with BEEHAVE. We updated our landscape module BEESCOUT to feed food patches composed of several flower species into the model. This created quite realistic patterns of the temporal and spatial nectar and pollen availability, which was derived from a habitat map. Still, the number of habitats we could define was limited.

While this approach was working and valid, it felt somewhat cumbersome to have to deal with two programs – BEESCOUT and Bumble-BEEHAVE – in parallel. Making small changes to the landscape could become a tedious exercise, the restriction to not more than nine habitat types often was a limitation and to add a new bumblebee species, we had to adjust the source code. In short, Bumble-BEEHAVE, together with BEESCOUT was a great model for researchers, but it was not the easily accessible, user-friendly tool that anyone could use which we wanted to see.

This, finally, led to the development of our new BEE-STEWARD tool, which is now published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. In order to fulfil the needs of our stakeholders, we closely worked with farmers, landowners and land advisors to make sure BEE-STEWARD benefits bees and business on the ground and to optimise the features of this tool while keeping the interface clean and tidy. With BEE-STEWARD we combined the landscape defining features of BEESCOUT with the bumblebee population model Bumble-BEEHAVE. We removed some of the previous limitations: new bumblebee species can now be easily defined in the input files, and the number of habitat types is no longer limited. Changing a landscape, e.g., adding margins around a field or creating a new patch of wildflowers, can now be done with a few mouse clicks. A simple report to compare two scenarios (e.g. with or without bee-friendly measures) can quickly be created, while more sophisticated ways of model analysis can still be applied.
We have tested the tool out with stakeholders and researchers through a range of projects to pilot and refine BEE-STEWRD so then it can be used for research, policy and practice. And, of course, BEE-STEWARD is freely available here and we would like to encourage everyone interested to give it a go! The model comes with detailed documentation and a manual. But if you are still stuck, drop us a line – we are happy to help!

To read the full Methods in Ecology and Evolution article, click on the following link: here.

 To access the BEE-STEWARD tool, visit the BEEHAVE website download page here.

Photo by P. Kennedy

Picture: The BEEHAVE Team Osborne Becher and Twiston-Davies CREDIT Pete Kennedy.



BEE-STEWARD BETA is launched!

Our new model, BEE-STEWARD Beta is ready to be tried and tested. BEE-STEWARD is a computer program of virtual bees in digital landscapes developed by researchers at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter that can be used to predict the effects of different land management on pollinator survival and pollination rates.

We have been joining forces with forward thinking farmers, land managers and land advisors, working together to make sure BEE-STEWARD benefits bees and business on the ground.

BEE-STEWARD Beta provides a user-friendly interface to the bee behaviour models Bumble-BEEHAVE and BEESCOUT.

Some of the key new BEE-STEWARD Beta features:

Integrated mapping and simulation. Now you can upload, edit and save landscape and farm maps and then run simulations on these in the one BEE-STEWARD Beta program.

A streamlined interface. The BEE-STEWARD interface has been simplified and streamlined. There is one “control panel” which displays your options which changes depending on what task you are conducting.

Countryside Stewardship Options. You can choose from three key Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package (WPFWP) Countryside Stewardship options; margins, plots and legume fields and select the area or margin width and length. You can also see the percentage of your farm area that is dedicated to these CS options. Other Stewardship options can be implemented by changing the habitat type e.g. type of grassland.

Crop rotation. You can run the model through as many years as you need with different maps representing different crop rotation options. We have also added cereal crops to the model so then Countryside Stewardship options can be applied to this crop type

An automatic report. We have added a simple automatic report which can compare the numbers of bumblebee colonies and pollinators in your landscape as a result of two different management options over 5 years. More advanced users can still use BehaviorSpace to compare management options over longer time periods.

GIS compatibility. So we can work better with land advisors and conservation charities we have adapted the model so then it can read in a Geographical Information System (GIS) produced text map (ASCII).

Infinity habitat types. We changed the model from using nine key habitat types to infinity habitat types so then you can include as many as you require, as long as you have information on what flowers are available in these habitats.

BEE-STEWARD Beta runs on the free software NetLogo (version 5.3.1). BEE-STEWARD Beta is no longer available for download but BEE-STEWARD is coming soon!

Working alongside the Osborne bee research group

Photo by Daphne Wong

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.

Photo by Clare Lemon


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.


Bumble-BEEHAVE launched

Foxglove Photo by Matthias Becher

‘Virtual safe space’ to help bumblebees

The many threats facing bumblebees can be tested using a “virtual safe space” created by scientists at the University of Exeter.

Bumble-BEEHAVE provides a computer simulation of how colonies will develop and react to multiple factors including pesticides, parasites and habitat loss.

The tool lets researchers, farmers, policymakers and other interested parties test different land management techniques to find out what will be most beneficial for bees. Field experiments can be very timely and costly, so results from Bumble-BEEHAVE can help refine and reduce the number of experiments needed.

Bumble-BEEHAVE – which is freely available online – is a powerful tool that can make predictions, according to a new study.

“We know that pollinator decline is a really big problem for crops and also for wildflowers,” said Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Bumble-BEEHAVE takes into account the many complicated factors that interact to affect bumblebees.

“This provides a virtual safe space to test the different management options.”

“It’s a free, user-friendly system and we’re already starting to work with land managers and wildlife groups on the ground.”

Oilseed rape landscape, photo by Ros Shaw

Disentangling the many factors that affect bumblebee colonies is incredibly complicated, meaning real-word testing of different methods by land managers is often not feasible.

This problem prompted the Exeter scientists to create the BEEHAVE (honeybees) and Bumble-BEEHAVE computer models.

Bumble-BEEHAVE can simulate the growth, behaviour and survival of six UK bumblebee species living in a landscape providing various nectar and pollen sources to forage on.

“The Bumble-BEEHAVE model is a significant step towards predicting bumblebee population dynamics,” said Professor Juliet Osborne, who leads the BEEHAVE team.

“It enables researchers to understand the individual and interacting effects of the multiple stressors affecting bumblebee survival and the feedback mechanisms that may buffer a colony against environmental stress, or indeed lead to spiralling colony collapse.

“The model can be used to aid the design of field experiments, for risk assessments, to inform conservation and farming decisions and for assigning bespoke management recommendations.”

Professor Osborne and team won the BBSRC Social Innovator of the Year 2017 award for creating the BEEHAVE models.

“We really hope that researchers and landowners will use the model and give us feedback so we can improve it further in future” said model developer Dr Matthias Becher.

The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is entitled: “Bumble-BEEHAVE: a systems model for exploring multifactorial causes of bumblebee decline at individual, colony, population and community level.”

The article can be found here

DOI 10.1111/1365-2664.13165


BEEHAVE goes to Canada

View from the office of Dr Matthias Becher at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, Toronto, Canada


BEEHAVE model creator, Dr Matthias Becher has just started a prestigious six month Jerrold E. Marsden Fellowship at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto, Canada.

Matthias was invited by Prof Hermann Eberl (University of Guelph), the Thematic program on Emerging Challenges in Mathematical Biology. Prof Eberl organises the Thematic Semester with Mark Lewis (University of Alberta) and Frithjof Lutscher (University of Ottawa) .

This is a great opportunity for me to meet scientists with a mathematical rather than a biological background and discuss the advantages and challenges of the different approaches to model bees and pollination” – Matthias Becher

Usually based at the interdisciplinary Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, this Fellowships offers Matthias a change of scenery (snow instead of fields), new challenges (-25˚C) and the opportunity to collaborate with other top scientists to explore new ideas in Mathematical Biology.

Dr Matthias Becher prepared for Canadian weather


Farmers and Scientists join forces to explore the future of pollinator-friendly farming

Photo by John Freddy Jones


BEE-STEWARD is a computer program of virtual bees in digital landscapes developed by researchers at the ESI that can be used to predict the effects of different land management on pollinator survival and pollination rates. Now, joining forces with farmers and land managers, we are working together to make sure BEE-STEWARD benefits bees and business on the ground. Although BEE-STEWARD focusses on pollinators and more specifically bumblebees and honeybees, management that is good for bees is also good for lots of other farm wildlife.

Representing the faces of farming across Cornwall, 11 enthusiastic and influential Cornish farmers and advisors gathered to discuss the best ways to work in partnership to benefit bees and business. Together with researchers from the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) based in the Penryn campus of the University of Exeter, we explored the motivations, barriers and support needed for pollinator-friendly farming into the future at our focus group on 5th September 2017.


The Government. The Countryside Stewardship (CS) scheme can be a huge motivation for farm management, providing governmental guidance, support and funding for practices that look after the environment. However, management on the ground needs to be justified in terms of establishment and maintenance costs and needs to deliver desired results to make sure farmers get involved. Not all farms are eligible for the CS scheme, but this doesn’t mean they’re not aware of food security or that they don’t want to enhance their farmland for nature. This means that there still needs to be direction from the government on how to manage landscapes sustainably for all farms.

Healthy farm, healthy business. It’s not all about money as a motivation. It is clear that farmers want a healthy farmed landscape for nature; their farm is their investment in their future and their families’ future. There are opportunities however, for “win wins” for bees and businesses in terms of financial gains from yield increases or CS schemes payments through the application of pollinator-friendly management exploring these “win wins” in partnership could deliver the best benefits for nature and business.

Supermarkets. Supermarkets are a big motivator; getting a contract with a supermarket can be essential for the future of some farm businesses. Some supermarkets will advocate entry into CS schemes for example which could increase the uptake in pollinator-friendly management, but not all farms supply to supermarket; some are too small and instead supply local farm shops and farmers’ markets. Nevertheless, it appears that there is great potential for supermarkets to influence how their suppliers manage their land sustainably.



Time is money. Many farms already have low profit margins, meaning that dedicating time and land specifically for wildlife can be difficult even if farmers know that space for wildlife is important for the health of their farm. Government incentives such as the CS scheme can be very time consuming especially for small farms where the time spent on the application is not necessarily justified by the potential payments. Every farm is different, and every farmer is different; a blanket approach as we have seen in the past is not appropriate in the future, and therefore management recommendations need to be more bespoke to the individual farm.

Photo by Daphne Wong

Methods where we can optimise land by targeting the best areas to grow food and enhance nature with opportunities to save time and money are required.


Supermarkets. Where supermarkets buy their produce from inevitably comes down to price, this enables them to contend with their competitors. However, buying on price alone doesn’t take into consideration the way in which the land has been managed and doesn’t add value to produce that comes from farmland managed sustainably. It is the general consensus that not all supermarkets are recognising, rewarding and awarding farmers that are doing their best for nature. It is clear that supermarkets could be a big motivation in the future for pollinator-friendly farming and therefore it is essential that we effectively engage supermarkets in BEE-STEWARD.

The “unknown”. Many farmers do not know what wildlife they already have on their farms and so require base-line surveys so then bespoke management can be recommended and applied. There is some help available for these types of surveys e.g. Farm and Wildlife Advisory Group and the Wildlife Trust, but not all farms have access to these services and surveys are time consuming. If farmers know what wildlife is on their farm, it can help them in their management decision making and this information can be shared with the businesses and supermarkets that they supply. It is therefore important that we consider how best to gather on-farm wildlife information and collaborate with the right partners, sharing data and ideas.


Support needed

Photo by Georgie Holman

Simplify and optimise decision making. It is important to simplify farm management decision making and make sure that any new tools fit with and enhance existing procedures. BEE-STEWARD could be used to compare predictions of different CS scheme options on bee survival and pollination rates and utilise the information that would go into these applications. BEE-STEWARD could be used to identify the best crop (and overwintering crop) type and location, help with rotations and identify the best use of unproductive or “difficult” land e.g. field corners or slopes, all bespoke to the individual farm. There is also a great opportunity for BEE-STEWARD to work with farms on a landscape scale e.g. facilitation areas or farmer clusters to save time and resources and to share best practice through peer-to-peer learning.

Recognise, reward and award. It is clear that the group felt strongly that more support is required from supermarkets to celebrate their farmers who look after nature and share their environmental aims and objectives. Supermarkets have huge influence and can enable farmers to enhance their farmland for wildlife and recognise, reward and award them for their efforts and share this with their customers. Considerable business engagement and campaigning is required, and we have plans to start this in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Business school, targeting across the “farm-to-fork” supply chain.

Challenge public perceptions. Farmers need the support of the public that they are producing food for. This means that it is essential that all the public understand how farm businesses work and how food is produced – not just those already watching farming programs and attending Open Farm Sundays. The public need to be willing to buy British produce made in a way that supports the environment and need to be willing to pay for it. Businesses are an immediate route to this public engagement by celebrating their producers and what they do for the environment. Many food and farming organisations do this e.g. the NFUs “Back British Farming”. Therefore, it is important to work in collaboration with Natural England, Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the National Farmers Union on the BEE-STEWARD project so that we can target public events in partnership. Schools and agricultural colleges offer a route to the next generation of farmers and consumers, making sure that they have the knowledge and skills for wildlife-friendly farming in the future.


Taking this forward with BEE-STEWARD

We are planning substantial business engagement to promote BEE-STEWARD and how it can be used to help manage landscapes for bees and business and to celebrate our “Bee-stewards”. There is a great deal of talk about “win wins”, enhancing pollinators whilst increasing profits and there are a few routes to achieve this-

  1. Using BEE-STEWARD recommendations with the aim of increasing yields or year-on-year yield stability, how can we translate more bees into a better business?
  2. Using BEE-STEWARD to make best use of difficult land: What are the easy ways to do so, and can we even save money?
  3. Using BEE-STEWARD as a tool for marketing – celebrating farmers as role models for profitable farms run sustainably and innovatively. This occurs within the farming industry but what about to the wider public?

There are some opportunities highlighted to celebrate pollinator friendly farming-

  1. The next generation of consumers and farmers: Work with schools and agricultural colleges.
  2. Supermarket marketing and public engagement in collaboration with partners such as the NFU, the Wildlife Trusts etc.
  3. Support communities of farmers: Regardless of farm type / size etc, all are running businesses, and need to balance the environment and food production.

We have a great deal of work to do and of course we can’t solve all of the problems with a computer program, but we can work in partnership with scientists, food and farming businesses, supermarkets and the public to make sure we can have a sustainable and profitable farming industry that supports nature and the people that it relies upon.


What’s next?

We have dates for our next focus group where we will put BEE-STEWARD through its paces, testing it out on real farm maps and management options on 29th and 30th  of November at the ESI on Penryn Campus, 12:00 noon-2:30pm. We also have business engagement events for the winter and spring, dates TBC. For more information on the project and to join one of our focus groups please contact BEE-STEWARD researcher Grace Twiston-Davies on

Collecting Floral Forage Data for our new model: Bumble-BEEHAVE

Photo by Clare Lemon

One of the main challenges of creating a bumblebee population model that operates in realistic digitised landscapes is how to represent multiple bee species feeding on multiple flower species both with different morphological characteristics.

What determines if a bee can feed on a flower or not? Bumblebees are attracted to some flowers and not others, high quantities of nectar as well as high sugar concentration per flower are important factors, as well as the quality of the pollen that they can collect too. We know that bumblebees have a preference for flowers in the pea family (Fabaceae), this includes White clover (Trifolium repens), Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and Common vetch (Vicia sativa) for example and these are often recommended as in pollinator friendly wild flower seed mixtures. Bumblebees also have a preference for flowers in the daisy family (Asteraceae) like Dandelion (Taraxacum offinale) and Common knapweed (Centurea nigra) and can collect a large amount of nectar and pollen by crawling around the large flower heads of these species without having to fly to and from individual flowers. But some bumblebee species have their particular favourites.

Co-evolution of flowers and bee pollinators means that some bumblebees are better adapted to feed on certain flower shapes than others. The length of the bees tongue (glossa) will determine how far down the nectarine the bumblebee can feed from. Some flowers have a fused corolla tube, this is at the base of the flower and is a tube like structure that will prevent any insects with a tongue shorted than it to feed on all of the nectar.

The widespread buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris has a relatively short tongue at about 6.3 mm on average, in contrast to the Garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum with 11 mm on average. This means that B. hortorum can feed on flowers with longer corolla tubes, and will possibly mean that B. terrestris and B. hortorum are not always in competition with each other for forage. So in the Bumble-BEEHAVE model we needed to factor in these different bumblebee glossa lengths and flower corolla tube lengths.

There is a great deal of literature out there on this, which makes our job a bit easier. We collected these values from the literature and these formed an input table for the model. We were missing some species data though, Foxgloves (Digitalis purpureum) are tricky, they are essentially entirely a fused corolla tube, but bumblebees can get into these as the flowers are large enough to accommodate most bumblebee body sizes, this means that data on how long this was (up to 45mm) was no use, instead we needed to know how long the part at the back of the flower was that may restrict the bumblebees with shorter tongues from feeding on it.

Photo by Matthias Becher


For this we explored the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter during the summer which was awash with Foxgloves up to 2 metres high after a bumper year. We sampled 3 flowers from 10 different plants and with digital callipers we measured that back part of the corolla. After washing our hands (as Foxgloves are mildly poisonous!) we calculated that on average this was approximately 7 mm, which may restrict some of the short tongued species. It is also perhaps a combination of a small body size combined with a long tongue that makes B. hortorum (and other long tongued bumblebee species) so effective at feeding on Foxgloves.

We collected data for the 35 different wild flower species that bees feed on nectar from and 3 nectar providing crops that ranged in size from 0 mm corolla tube for open flowers such as Bramble (Rubus fructicosus) and Buttercups (Ranunculus acris), through to Foxgloves, Red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) and Common vetch (V. sativa) at approximately 7 mm right through to 17 mm for the tubular wild flower Bugle (Ajuga reptans) and a huge 19 mm for Broad bean (V. faba) crops, which may only be assessable to the Queens of long tongued species B. hortorum and B. pascuroum.

With the nectar flower volume and sugar concentration data collected by Dr. Ellie Rotheray from the University of Sussex we had all the data we need to represent different bee species feeding on different flower species in our digitised landscapes.

Next steps?

Now we have this data in our model we can explore a range of questions, we can look into the energetics behind bee feeding preferences, we can look at what species provide the majority of nectar for bees, something that is tricky to do in empirical studies. We also aim to use Bumble-BEEHAVE to explore a range of pollinator friendly Countryside Stewardship options in a variety of landscapes in order to make bespoke management recommendations so watch this space for more news on Bumble-BEEHAVE.


Dr Grace Twiston-Davies is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Exeter, Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI). Grace has been working with Prof. Juliet Osborne, Dr. Matthias Becher, and Tim Penny on the Bumble-BEEHAVE model as part of the BBSRC funded project “An integrated model for predicting bumblebee population success and pollination services in agro-ecosystems”. She has a PhD in grassland landscape restoration and ecology from the University of Reading.

BEEHAVE teams up with farmers to develop models for bees and business

By Kathy Troke-Thomas

Workshop underway with farmers, land managers and researchers, Photo by Emma Coster

Following on from a successful workshop at the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) conference, the BEEHAVE team are busy extending the real-world impact of our award winning bee behaviour, growth and survival models with the help of land managers and farmers across Cornwall and Devon, South-West, UK.

Bees are important pollinators of many wild flowers and crops and are essential for a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We are working on the development of BEE-STEWARD, a computer software tool that enables the user to visualise how different land management options could affect bee colony survival and pollination rates. In collaboration with Natural England, Cornwall and South Devon AONBs and with support from the National Farmers Union, once completed, BEE-STEWARD will be freely available to aid farmers when considering land management options that effect pollinators.

Bumblebee on Oilseed rape crop, Photo by Clare Lemon


We have begun to collate useful suggestions and ideas from the workshop that we can  apply to the continued improvement of BEE-STEWARD. Here are just a few of those suggestions:

“Create a model that can be altered to be bespoke for the farmers key priorities and interests.” 

“Incorporate results that relate to up-to-date stewardship schemes and other government incentives.” 

“Offer links to other farmers who have used BEE-STEWARD and share success stories.” 


We still need valuable guidance from forward-thinking farmers. Ensuring that the target audience is consulted as we develop the software is essential to producing an efficient, relevant and user-friendly tool. Over the next months we will start a series of focus groups where we can refine BEE-STEWARD with help from farmers and land managers. During these focus groups we plan to discuss the future of farm management that benefits bees and business and test BEE-STEWARD out on real farm maps and management plans.

Our next focus groups are on Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th November 2017 at the Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE. For more information or to join our focus group please contact BEE-STEWARD researcher Grace Twiston-Davies on


Kathy Troke-Thomas is a Laboratory and Teaching Assistant at the University of Exeter. Kathy has been working on stakeholder engagement and communications for the “Farms for AONBees” project, a collaboration between the Environment and Sustainability Institute and Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. She has a BSc in Conservation Biology and Ecology from the University of Exeter and is passionate about wildlife-friendly land management and conservation communication and outreach.

BEEHAVE team win Innovator of the Year award for Social Impact

Dr Matthias Becher, Prof Juliet Osborne and Dr Grace Twiston-Davies, Photo by Amrita Sharma


Prof. Juliet Osborne and her BEEHAVE team have won the prestigious BBSRC 2017 “Innovator of the year” award for Social Impact due to their extensive work with policy makers, regulators and land-stewards.

The teams’ impact stretches globally: BEEHAVE is forming the basis of risk assessments for honeybee health across the UK, Europe and the USA, used by Syngenta, Bayer, the European Food Safety Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The newest models, BEESCOUT and Bumble-BEEHAVE are being used with land-stewards such as farmers, land managers and landowners. In collaboration with the National Farmers Union (NFU), Natural England and regional Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) the team are helping to target pollinator-friendly management that benefits pollinator conservation and food production.

It is really important that the research we do is applicable and useful to a wide range of users” Prof Juliet Osborne

Photo copyright London Event Photography


The models enable the testing of different management scenarios in a virtual “safe-space” and so can be used to target and refine land management and environmental regulation. This can save a considerable amount of time and money. At an annual cost of over £1 billion, optimum placement of agri-environment schemes is critical. The agrochemical industry typically spends £1 million per ecotoxicological field trial and over £280 million to bring a product to market. The models can help target land management and trials accordingly, making a major contribution to the protection of our essential pollinators whilst saving millions of pounds. A win-win for bees and business.

The awards were hosted at East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf in London on the 24th May presented by Steve Bagshaw Chief executive of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnolgies and Prof Melanie Welham Executive of BBSRC. Prof Juliet Osborne and Dr Grace Twiston-Davies represented the BEEHAVE team which also includes model developer Dr Matthias Becher and Prof Volker Grimm.

Award winners receive funding to continue with their innovative impact work. The BEEHAVE team plan to “train the trainer” and establish a cohort of expert BEEHAVERS who can inspire and train others across a range of sectors.


The BBSRC Innovator of the Year awards recognises individual researchers and small teams who have excelled in making positive changes outside of the academic community with their research. Now in its ninth year, the awards not only celebrate excellence in impact, but provide the opportunity for the bioscience community to network with influential guests from the academic, policy and industrial communities, share ideas and celebrate innovation.

 Header photo © Pete Kenedy