The UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme and how to join in

 

Could you sit in the sunshine, in front of a patch of flowers, and spend ten minutes watching and counting all the insects that land on just one of the flower species in that patch?

If so you could make a valuable contribution to monitoring pollinating insects by carrying out a FIT Count (Flower-Insect Timed Count).

 

 

 The FIT Count is one of two surveys developed by the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (PoMS) that are intended to give us a new insight into the numbers of insects that play a role in pollination. The counts ask you to divide the insects you see on the flowers into broad groups: bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, other flies, butterflies and moths, etc. (we don’t ask for insects to be identified to species level), and to provide some information on how many of your target flowers were included in your patch, and what the main habitat is, using a simple recording form. The recording form and full survey information, along with guides to recognising the main insect groups and target flowers, are all available on the PoMS website.  

In 2019 over 10,000 individual insects were counted during the ten-minute FIT Counts, with an average of 13.2 insects visiting the target flowers per count. The insect groups making up the majority of flower visitors during counts were the bumblebees, hoverflies, other flies and small insects.

 Working out which group of insects you are seeing can be simple, but there are some tricky ones, even at group level! Small, black flying insects could be hoverflies, bees or wasps; stripy black-and-yellow insects could be hoverflies, wasps or sawflies – insects are good at putting on disguises. But by looking closely there are ways to check what you are seeing, e.g. by focusing on the length on the antennae, the size and shape of the eyes, and the way the insects behave. Do they hover, are they collecting pollen, how fast do they fly? – all these things can be helpful clues to double-check what you are seeing. The PoMS insect guide provides lots more information, but if you see an insect during your count and you’re not sure what it is, please do count it under the “other insects” category. That way we will still have a good record of the total number of insects that have visited the flower, even if we can’t be certain of the species groups for some of them.

PoMS is a partnership led by scientists at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, working with a wide range of partners including Butterfly Conservation as well as Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Hymettus, British Trust for Ornithology, Natural History Museum, and the universities of Reading and Leeds. It is jointly funded by Defra, the Welsh and Scottish Governments, JNCC and the project partners.

PoMS started in 2017, following extensive trials of the survey methods, and as the monitoring continues we will be able to analyse changes in numbers alongside the brilliant work that recording schemes do to track changes in species distribution. The many volunteers who send in records to schemes such as BWARS and the Hoverfly Recording Scheme mean that we have unrivalled knowledge of where species occur, and when their ranges start to change. The recording scheme data has been critical in providing evidence for changes in pollinating insects – for instance, research led by UKCEH in partnership with the schemes recently showed that one third of bee and hoverfly species experienced declines in terms of areas in which they were found, while only one tenth increased.

 However, the pollination services that insects provide depend on the abundance of the insects across the country, as well as on changes in range of the species, and to track abundance requires targeted, structured surveys that are repeated over time, which is the gap that the PoMS surveys are filling.

The more people who can help us collect data for PoMS, the better our evidence will be for what is happening to pollinating insects. The FIT Counts can be done anywhere where there are suitable flowers, in good weather between April and September. Please note that at the time of writing we are requesting that FIT Counts are only carried out on private property to which you have access that is unrestricted by the current and future government guidance, such as gardens, yards, balconies and window boxes.

PoMS also runs a series of more detailed surveys in a set of 75 randomly-chosen one-kilometre squares across Britain. Sadly this survey has been suspended until coronavirus restrictions can be lifted, but when it is safe to do so we will be resuming the surveys and will be looking for volunteers to join our existing team and cover the squares that have not yet been adopted. See the map for the available locations, and if you are interested in finding out more let us know.

 

More information and video guides to the PoMS surveys are available on our website at www.ceh.ac.uk/pollinator-monitoring, and if you want to know more or to enquire about a 1km square survey please contact PoMS via [email protected] or see our Twitter account @PoMScheme.

 

Martin Harvey, on behalf of the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology