Guest blog

The Bees Needs

by Dr. Beth Nicholls, University of Sussex

When Jane King from Pale Blue Dot first contacted me to ask if I’d like to be involved in the Lost & Found exhibition at ONCA I jumped at the chance. A big motivation for me in conducting research is the impact I hope the results will have on real-world problems, such as the conflict between sustainable, affordable food production and the conservation of biodiversity. Communicating my research to the public is something I feel very passionate about. After all, much of the research conducted at universities is funded via government grants, so it is imperative that people are able to access the results of the studies their taxes support.

The mock lab, at the back of ONCA gallery, is a very accurate reconstruction of my daily working environment – it was very funny for me to visit ONCA last week and see some of my equipment and data sheets in place as part of an art exhibition! There really is a lot of beauty in the scientific study of the natural world, from the vivid fuchsia pink dye we use to stain the pollen samples we collect from bees’ nests, to the complex and intricate surface structures of the pollen grains themselves. Although it is easy to lose sight of this beauty when staring down the microscope for several hours, trying to identify minute differences in these structures to determine which plant species bees have been visiting!


Cross-section of Mason bee nesting tube

I hope that the mock lab, and the installation as a whole, will help visitors to understand what it’s like to conduct scientific research, and go some way to help remove the barriers of communication between ‘the scientists’ and ‘the public’. This is also one of the aims of a new initiative, The Buzz Club, set up by members of the Goulson group at Sussex University. The Buzz Club is a unique way of helping people of all ages learn more about pollinators and their local environment, by enabling them to become the scientist. The Buzz Club’s overall goal is to ensure that we conserve the UK’s wild bees and other insects, giving them a future. However we can only do this if we understand more about them; Why are some disappearing? How fast are they declining? How many are left?

To answer these questions we involve the public in fun nationwide surveys and experiments they can conduct in their gardens, community spaces or school yards. The data is then collated and analysed by us, with the aim of building an evidence-base to provide informed advice to our volunteers and those responsible for managing community spaces as to how they can help – for example which flowers should they grow and how can they best provide nesting sites and suitable places to breed for the different types of insect.

Dr. Beth Nicholls works in the Goulson Lab at the University of Sussex studying the impacts neonicotinoids have on solitary bees and bumble bees.

Lost & Found is a collaborative project between Pale Blue Dot and ONCA.

Exhibition runs until 23rd September. Opening times: Weds – Fri 12 noon – 7pm, Sun & Sat 11am – 6pm.


Brighton Green Drinks with PAN-UK

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant


Over the years it has become apparent that there are more and more negative consequences associated with the use of pesticides. From links to cancers and birth defects, to killing off certain species, it is clear that the use of pesticides can be dangerous.

According to Rachel Carson’s seminal book ‘Silent Spring’, it all started with fox deaths in the 1950s. By the early 60s many birds were being killed due to use of pesticides, including predators like owls who were found with mercury and other chemicals in their bodies. This seemed to be due to the fact that they were eating rodents or insects in the gardens of London, which had been contaminated by these deadly toxins.

Sadly, because of pesticide use, we have seen the disappearance of some animals. Cuckoos have become scarce, because their staple diet of caterpillars has been depleted. There are also less songbirds due to an insect and worm shortage, and of the little left of this food, most is poisoned.

On Wednesday the 24th of June, Lauren and I headed to the Lord Nelson Inn for ‘Brighton Green Drinks’. This month’s talk was led by Nick Mole of PAN-UK.

Nick highlighted how widespread the use of pesticides is: there is no way we can escape them! The most widely used pesticide by the council is glyphosate, which is particularly harmful to children and nursing mothers, yet it is sprayed all over our parks, playgrounds and schools.

Pesticide use can be replaced by many other safer, ecological and more cost-effective techniques.  Flame, foam or hot water treatments and hand weeding could be used instead. So if there are better alternatives out there, then why are we not using them?

Perhaps we are just lazy. Many major cities in the world have significantly reduced or even stopped the use of pesticides in their public spaces, for example Paris, Copenhagen and Seattle. France, in particular has hundreds of towns and villages which are or are becoming pesticide free zones.

PAN-UK are a Brighton-based charity tackling the problems caused by pesticides, and are leading the way to make Brighton and Hove the first pesticide free city! They have already done some amazing things such as helping 5000 cotton-growing farmers in West Africa and Ethiopia to start using organic production.

They have also been raising awareness of how bees are affected by pesticides. There are 40 pesticides which are toxic to bees. Honey bees pollinate one third of everything we eat, and so are vital to humankind.

One interesting thing mentioned in the talk was that lobbyist and ex-Greenpeace member, Dr. Patrick Moore, claimed that a pesticide manufacturer’s product is safe to drink, and then refused to drink it.

Surely he knows all of the ingredients in this “safe” concoction as he currently works in PR for polluting companies. Refusing to drink it clearly means that these chemicals are not fit for human consumption. Imagine what it is doing to nature and wildlife.

The point is, if pesticides are causing this much harm, and if other places are surviving perfectly without them, then why can’t we do the same here in the UK?

PAN-UK are continually putting pressure on governments, regulators, policy makers, industry and retailers, and you can do the same by writing letters and signing petitions!
Everyone needs to get involved, otherwise, in the words of the great scientist Rachel Carson, “we will continue to contaminate the entire environment and bring the threat of disease and death to mankind.”