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Professor’s research to address plight of the bumblebee

The great yellow bumblebee, Bombus distinguendus, the UK’s rarest bumblebee species

Professor Dave Goulson

The plight of the bumblebee is the guiding passion behind research projects at the University of Sussex led by newly-appointed biologist and conservationist Professor Dave Goulson.

Professor Goulson, who is author of A Sting in the Tale (serialised from Monday 6 May as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4), turned a childhood obsession with wildlife into an academic career that has now brought him to Sussex.

One of the UK’s most respected conservationists and the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Professor Goulson joins the University’s School of Life Sciences.

In three new major projects funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and Defra, Goulson's group will be investigating:

  •  factors affecting how many wild bumblebee nests can survive on farms and making farms more bee and wildlife-friendly;
  • iImpacts neonicotinoid pesticides have on bees, looking at how pesticides interfere with foraging behaviour and overall bee colony performance;

Professor Goulson’s research interest is underscored by the fact that in the past 70 years British bumblebee populations have crashed. In that time two species have become nationally extinct and several other of the 27 species found in Britain are suffering dramatic declines.

As he outlines in his book, Professor Goulson’s passion to reinstate one of the nationally extinct species – the short-haired bumblebee, once commonly found in the marshes of Kent and now found only in New Zealand – embraces both fundamental research and public engagement, to ensure that the bumblebee is better understood and that it remains a part of the British wildlife landscape.

On his move to Sussex, Professor Goulson says: “The South is a lot warmer and therefore offers the opportunity to investigate lots more fascinating insects. And I look forward to seeing Sussex become the best place for bee research in the world.”

Being in Brighton also means that Professor Goulson is just a short hop away from his farm and fields in France, where he is cultivating a big experiment on how to recreate a flower-rich meadow.

“I’m sowing lots of different ‘hemiparasitic’ flowers there, which should help to suppress the grasses and encourage other flowers to grow,” says Professor Goulson.

Professor Goulson is also involved, in association with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, in a Beewalks scheme that encourages the public to get involved and help to monitor changing bumblebee populations over time: “We are starting a new project in which we hope to get the public counting pollinators in their allotments and gardens, to see if there are enough bees to pollinate all our veggie crops.” 

The University of Sussex is already home to the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), which includes work on the honey bee, while scientists in the fields of biology, neuroscience and computing at Sussex are engaged in bee-related projects such as the evolution of social systems using eusocial insects, building a bee robot brain and insect navigation.

Notes for Editors

Dave Goulson studied biology at Oxford University and is now Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Sussex. He has published over 200 scientific articles on bees, butterflies and other insects. He founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, whose groundbreaking conservation work won the Heritage Lottery Award for best Environmental Project. He was made ‘Social Innovator of the Year’ by the Biology and Biotechnology Research Council in 2010.

Michael McCarthy book review in Independent

Daily Mail story

For more information about A Sting in the Tale contact Hannah Ross at Random House on 020 7840 8542 or email

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 1 May 2013