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University bee lab makes a new home on the Web

Students Heather Moore and Nicola Firmin conduct an experiment on flower constancy in honey bees in LASI

Visitors can now view a hive of activity at the University of Sussex bee lab – on the web.

The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), led by Professor of Apiculture Francis Ratnieks, was officially opened in April this year. Since October 2008 LASI researchers have been working on the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being – a four-part project that will explore the plight of the honey bee over the next five years. The full economic cost of the project is £2m.

The public reaction to the plight of our native honey bees – and to the work of LASI – has been tremendous. Donations from companies, major benefactors and school children have helped boost funds for the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being to just over £0.5m.

Now supporters can follow the progress of the key projects and find out how to help support research into the British honey bee by visiting the LASI web site ( Further web development over the next few months visitors will give visitors access to downloadable resources and pictures.

Professor Ratnieks says: “There’s still a long way to go before we secure the future of these vital projects in the long-term. The public response so far has been fantastic, and we’re hoping that the Government, through its Pollinator Initiative, will prove itself just as committed to the cause through the £10m of funds it has promised.”

Honey bees have been hit hard by disease, pests and other contributors to Colony Collapse Disorder. Around 30 per cent of hives in the UK died off last winter, leaving fewer bees to pollinate a large number of commercial food crops and flowers and other plants that rely on. Honey bee pollination is responsible for £200m worth of food crops annually in the UK. Professor Ratnieks and his team are working to discover why bees are dying off – and how to stop the decline.

The work of the LASI team has inspired MPs, big business, charities, other institutions, ordinary citizens and schoolchildren alike. Here are some examples of the kind of people committed to the Sussex Plan cause:

  • Maureen Wilson will devote her hour of fame on the Trafalgar Square fourth plinth, as part of Anthony Gormley’s installation there, to the plight of the honey bee. Maureen told the LASI team of her plans and her hour on Wednesday 22 July promises to be a lively and colourful occasion. 
  • Schoolchildren at St Joseph’s RC Primary School, Brighton, wowed parents with their glorious exhibition about honey bees. They designed their own T-shirts, launched a campaign for bee-friendly window boxes (a lot of the children live in flats) and served honey-drizzled ice cream to parents. Proceeds went to the Sussex Plan and LASI scientist Dr Karin Alton was on call to hand out prizes;
  • Professor Francis Ratnieks welcomed Shadow Environment Secretary, the Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert, to the LASI laboratory. Mr Herbert co-tabled a motion in the House of Commons welcoming Government funding into pollinator research and calling on MPs to support the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being.
  • Ten-year-old Cub Scout Eliot Edmunds from London completed a 26-mile walk around the Isle of Wight in June to raise £200 for LASI, after learning about the plight of the bees on a TV programme. It is hoped that Eliot will visit the lab soon with his parents. 
  • Conservation staff at Kew Gardens’ annexe, Wakehurst Place, have generously offered to help turn the LASI apiary into a showcase collection of plants and trees so visitors to the the lab can appreciate the importance of honey bees to pollination. Wakehurst Place envisage donating not only downland meadow plants, hedging, trellis and fruit trees, but also their time and expertise in planting and maintaining this area.
  • Donors to date include University benefactor Michael Chowen, founder of Sussex Stationers, honey company Rowse Honey and the conservation and ecology charity the Ninevah Trust.

Aside from the Sussex Plan, the lab is engaged in other projects, studying honey bees and other social insects such as ants, which embrace both applied scientific projects such as the Sussex Plan, and pure science projects that look at social insect behaviour and biology in the round.


Notes for Editors


Honey bee research in the news: 


Last updated: Tuesday, 4 August 2009