8 things we’ve learned from the first year of the Polli:Nation survey

Last year saw the launch of Polli:Nation, a large-scale national survey that is providing answers to important research questions about the health and status of pollinating insects across the UK. Polli:Nation Project Officer Vanessa Barber reports back on an eventful first season.

Pollinators are struggling. Half the UK’s bumblebee species, two thirds of our moths and 71% of our butterflies are in decline. But we can all do something about it.

Polli:Nation is all about empowering people to take action to protect their local bees, flies, butterflies and other pollinating insects. This time last year, we asked the nation to count pollinators in their garden, local park or schoolyard and to pick a 10 x 10 metre patch, recording the different habitat types and plant species.

We received 474 survey submissions from across the UK and have just finished analysing the mound of data collected - here’s what we’ve learned.

1. Daisies were the most common species of flower participants spotted… but you’re far more likely to find pollinators buzzing around bramble, buddleia or umbelifers

Within the survey sites, the most common species of flower were daisy, buttercup, dandelion and clover. However, a separate analysis shows that the flowers associated with the greatest number of pollinators were bramble, buddleia and umbelifers (cow parsley etc.) This means that there is a lot of scope for providing pollinators with a tastier menu of flowers to choose from.Butterfly

Silver Washed Fritillary butterfly and Red Soldier Beetle nectaring on Umbellifer, Fionnuala Parnell


2.  Sunshine + ‘floweriness’ = more pollinators

‘Floweriness’ (% flower coverage) and sunshine were important factors in determining the number of pollinators seen. As we accumulate more data year on year, we will be able to start investigating whether the habitat improvements, such a planting more flowers, start to increase the number of pollinators. Although there’s not very much we can do about the weather


3. Honeybees take number one spot in our ‘Species Quest’

A third of Polli:Nation participants took part in ‘Species Quest’, an opportunity to record sightings of the 12 particularly interesting or important pollinating insect species whose distribution we are trying to map across the UK. 

The most frequently seen Species Quest species was the Honeybee (seen on 73 surveys, 56 locations) followed by the Common Carder Bee (46 surveys) and the Marmalade Hoverfly (42 surveys).


4. The most common habitat reported was short grass – showing huge potential for improvement

Even though more than 8000m2 of wildflower habitat was recorded as part of the survey, the most common habitat was short grass, covering 45% of the total area surveyed. In 210 surveys, short grass made up at least half of the survey site. Although this habitat type is not very good for pollinating insects because it provides very little shelter or food, it has huge potential for pollinators: simply allowing areas of short grass to grow long is hugely beneficial to our flying friends.


5. Our participants counted 5,513 flies, beetles, bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects

From this huge number of pollinating insects, 14% were recorded as ‘unidentified’ and the remaining 86% were categorised into the 7 pollinator groups. The most frequently recorded pollinator type was ‘other flies’ (39%) followed by beetles (13%). Bumblebees, honeybees, solitary bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies together made up 35% of the pollinators counted.


6. Two thirds of participants were inspired to take action to improve their patch

65% of the individuals and groups who took part in the survey last year plan to make habitat improvements for pollinators to their garden, park or school grounds. These changes could include providing more nesting and shelter habitat, such as areas of exposed soil (bee banks), or insect hotels, or feeding habitat – by planting more pollinator friendly flowers.


7. In total, Polli:Nation participants put 20 days’ worth of time into surveying their local pollinators and habitat, covering a total of 42768 m2

We’d like to say a huge thank you to our Polli:Nation citizen scientists up and down the country! Collecting this data would have been impossible without them.


8) Pollinators still need your help!

If there’s one thing we learned, it’s that there’s so much more left to learn! So we’re counting on you to help us study changes over time, and to fill in gaps in our coverage.

Last year, 43% of those taking part in the survey were located in England followed by 28% in Scotland, 21% in Wales, and 8% in Northern Ireland. Overall there was relatively good coverage across the UK although there are some surveying gaps in East Anglia, the south west, the north of England, southern Scotland and the borders and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. If you live in these parts of the country, we would love for you to take part!

You can contribute to our research by becoming a citizen scientist and surveying your school grounds, park or garden for pollinators. If you would like to part in this season’s survey, everything you need to get started can be found here.


Find out more

For further details of our findings please read the full Polli:Nation survey results 2016.

Take part in Polli:Nation

See our tips how to turn your garden, park or school grounds into a pollinator paradise. Read more