University's bee researchers Spring into action

Bees At Jimmy's Farm

Spring is in the air – and so are the busy honey bees of the University of Sussex bee hives.

Having overcome the freezing winter weather and the unwelcome attentions of local green woodpeckers looking for an easy meal, worker bees have been making the most of the recent sunny spells to forage on the crocuses and snowdrops around campus.

The rise in activity has been matched by bee scientists in the University’s Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI), which is continuing with work on the first two projects of the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Wellbeing – breeding more hygienic bees and tracking honey bee foraging habits.

The Sussex Plan is designed to study the British honey bee in the round, and will help to conserve the native species in the face of a raft of diseases and environmental challenges that has seen colony numbers decline.

Honey bees are vital to the environment and to the economy as pollinators of flowers, trees, shrubs and food crops. Their biology and behaviour also give scientists plenty of food for thought, and their study is described as “the gateway to biology”.

Professor Francis Ratnieks and his team have had a busy diary for March, with a range of events and public lectures that are all helping to spread the word about the research being conducted at the University to help the honey bee.


  • March 10: the lab played host to BBC Radio Sussex Breakfast Show presenter Neil Pringle, who visited the lab to learn more about Dr Margaret Couvillon’s Sussex Plan project – deciphering bee waggle dances to determine where bees are foraging in the landscape.
  • March 13 and 14: Dr Karin Alton was rubbing shoulders with celebrity farmer Jimmy Doherty (Jimmy’s Farm, Jimmy’s Farming Heroes) on his farm in Wherstead near Ipswich. Dr Alton joined the scientist turned documentary maker for a special weekend of hands-on activities highlighting science in food, farming and animals as part of National Science Week. Dr Alton, who oversees schools education events in between research work, brought honey bees in an observation hive for visitors to view and described how LASI is trying to help reverse the decline in honey bees.
  • March 20: LASI bee scientist Norman Carreck was filmed for BBC TV’s Spotlight South West programme while he was attending a beekeepers’ meeting in Devon on “coping with honey bee colony losses”, organised as part of Defra's "Healthy Bees Plan".
  • March 24: The University was host to botanist and ecologist Steve Alton, who is currently working at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He gave a talk on British flora and the landscape, as part of the Evolution and Ecology Spring Seminar series organised by LASI. Steve has worked for Kew Gardens at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, where he was responsible for organising the collection of seeds from 97 per cent of British wildflowers.
  • March 25: Professor Ratnieks scheduled to deliver a public lecture entitled ‘The honey bee: Gateway to biology, cultural icon and agricultural helper’ at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. The talk marks a new collaboration between the University and Kew (including Kew’s Sussex annex, Wakehurst Place) which will investigate the relationship between bees and plants.
  • March 29: Professor Ratnieks scheduled to give a lecture on honey bee research at Sussex to members of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes at Denman College near Abingdon in Oxfordshire. Last year, the WI espoused the cause of honey bee research and continues to be an important ally of the honey bee.

The arrival of April sees no decrease in LASI activities. On April 28 the laboratory will host a day of seminars, workshops and discussion forums focusing on the decline of honey bees and the impact of this on land use and the community as a whole.


The event, entitled What’s the Buzz?, is sponsored by the Rural Research and Strategy Partnership and will encompass topics in education, community, agriculture and land management. Attendees from the education sector, local government, the farming community and industry are invited to what will hopefully become not only a lively debate, but create opportunities for networking and collaborations


Notes for Editors



For details of the Kew lecture see:


For details of the WI lecture see:


For further details of What’s The Buzz see


The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex is the largest research group in the UK studying honey bees and other social insects – the bees, wasps and ants that live in a colony with a queen and workers. LASI research studies the honey bee and other social insects "in the round", addressing both applied and basic questions.


University of Sussex Press office contacts: Tel: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing on 01273 678 888 or email

Last updated: Wednesday, 31 March 2010