Blog post

Zooming in....

Published on
April 23, 2019

Part-time beekeeper and fulltime researcher and lecturer counted 10 bee species in her garden during a national bee-counting activity.

Our MSc students can take the opportunity to conduct an academic consultancy training (ACT) as a way of gaining real life experience of applying academic skills to an actual problem.

I normally work with communities in the tropics on how forests and their products, such as honey, are governed and traded. I am on the Board of a Cameroonian social enterprise that trades in organically certified honey and wax. In addition, at home in Zeist, I am a beekeeper and chair the local association of the National Beekeepers Association (NBV). However, participating in governing my local environment in the Netherlands is new for me. As a beekeeper, I am very concerned about declining insect populations, and of course, as an academic, am curious about how such local community initiatives work at home in The Netherlands. So, I combined my professional and personal interests in the form of one such academic consultancy training.

With liked-minded beekeepers, we set up a workgroup called Zeist Zoemt Duurzaam (Zeist Zooms Sustainably) to promote a more bee friendly environment, for both honeybees and wild bees in the Hymenoptera family. We are supported by a grant from local authority of Zeist, who under the umbrella of a programme called Together Sustainable Zeist, are promoting citizen initiatives to improve the environment. Our work group’s first step was to find out more about our environment and the bees we have in Zeist. We found that although we knew where honeybees are located and where they forage for nectar and pollen, but had little knowledge about wild bees.

So we invited Wageningen students to advise us. Supervised by my close colleague Jim van Laar (also nice to collaborate with him from the ‘other side of the table’!) and advised academically by animal ecologist Arjen de Groot, the ACT group was comprised of a multidisciplinary group of botanists, communication, ecology, and agricultural students who came to our aid in the course of three months. Robin van Beers, Martin Brussaard, Sander Malkus, Carolina Castagna, Maarten Frank van der Schee and Winfried Vertommen sought answers to our questions: where and what kinds of bees do we have in Zeist? Who is active – especially private sector and citizens in promoting or protecting bees? Can we develop a “Bee Ribbon” (bijenlint) in which bee nesting habitats and flora can be improved, and where necessary protected (i.e. for endangered species)? In addition, how should we best communicate with these local stakeholders? The result of the 8-week project was a very informative set of reports, presented at a well-attended public meeting at the Zeist town hall in March (see photo of the handover of the report). The students found that in Zeist we have 143 of the nationally known 356 bee species, 27 of which are endangered and on the national Red list and 11 critically endangered. They identified three main hotspots and proposed a “ribbon” to link these areas, and provided us with a communication plan stating who and how we can engage with the many interested and relevant organisations.

Last week was the second year of the Netherlands National Bee Count – where people are encouraged to get out and identify bees in their environment. The action aims to raise people’s interest and knowledge about bees, and also to generate big data on what’s flying around. So of course, I took part. With my nose in the flowers, I frantically identified as many bee species as I could while enjoying the sun, then patiently entered the data into the national voluntary flora and fauna observation website. I did not find any new or endangered species, but did find 10 species zooming around my garden!