Discovering Bees Online


Aaron Bhambra is the BioLinks Project Officer for the West Midlands , he's helped create the FSC's 'Discovering Bees Online Course' alongside Dan and Keiron from the BioLinks Team.

Last month marked the end of the first run of the FSC ‘Discovering bees online’ course, part of the lottery funded Biolinks project, aiming to promote and inspire the study of often neglected invertebrate groups. We speak to the course tutor, Aaron Bhambra about the course.

Discovering Bees

At this time of year, I tend to get a lot of people asking me about bees and which species they have found in their gardens or local park. I will be sent a photo or shaky video and I love it when this happens because I get to illuminate someone about a topic that I know is more complicated and fascinating than they could ever imagine. I myself spend a lot of time staring at strange insects clinging to flowers thinking to myself ‘what is that?!’, with that strange level of excitement that comes from experiencing the unknown. ‘One of the most beautiful things we can experience is the mysterious’ and that really holds true in the world of invertebrates. Bees are a wonderful example of something which we experience almost everyday and know so little about. But there is no better feeling than finding out what ‘it’ is, its a little like nature revealing one of her secrets to those determined enough to think critically about a world that they are a part of. 

Image : Andrena cineraria (Ashy Mining Bee), Wali Taylor © All rights reserved

The Online Course

Although insects like bees are loved throughout the world, they are also a vastly misunderstood group of animals. So, we at BioLinks thought it would be a great idea to lay down some steppingstones for anyone interested in these furry pollinating machines, to develop a deeper understanding of what they are, where they came from and what their role is in the ecosystem. Using an online learning platform called Moodle, we have created the Discovering Bees online course, which will give anyone, regardless of any prior experience, an introductory tour to the world of bees. We use a variety of educational tools and resources such as workbooks, activities, quizzes, and assignments to develop a rich learning experience for our students.

Here is an example of video content from the course

Unlike a conventional identification course which jumps straight into species ID, this course instead builds up a picture of the biology, diversity, life history, ecology, and behaviour of our world’s most important pollinators over a four-week period. We cover four main areas, including ‘bee biology’, ‘bee diversity and ecology’, ‘bee behaviour’ and a final topic ‘finding bees’ which trains individuals in how to go about locating the more elusive solitary bees which are often overlooked. We have designed the course in this way to develop the knowledge and experience of our learners, before enhancing their skills in identification and recording. This staggered learning is essential when tackling a topic as mind boggling as bees, with an ancestry that stretches back over 130 million years and spans over 20,000 species worldwide.

Live Webinars

When thinking critically about the natural world, it is important to ask questions and that is why during Discovering bees,  we have included ‘live webinars’ throughout each week of the course, which allows learners to pitch questions directly to one of our bee specialists and discuss their own observations. Each webinar will focus on a different topic, consolidating the knowledge of the previous weeks workbooks and delving deeper still into different aspects of bee behaviour, biology, taxonomy, and ecology.

Can you help bees?

In the UK over this past century, 23 species of bee and wasp species have gone extinct and over the last 40 years, 13 out of our 24 bumblebee species have had their geographic range halved. This is a worrying trend which does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Part of the wider issue is that we do not have long term data on the abundance of wild bee species, compared to those of other insect groups like butterflies. We simply do not know enough about our native bee populations to counteract the scale of this decline. Generating records of bees is essential for combating biodiversity loss and climate change. That is why during this course, you will not only learn about bees but you will also actively contribute records of them to a national recording scheme (PoMS: The Pollinator Monitoring Scheme). During week 4 of this course, you will be taught how to conduct a Flower Insect Timed count (FIT Count) and generate valuable records of bees for scientists based at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology as part of the PoMS FIT Count surveys.

Whats Next?

If you are interested in bees and want to help contribute towards reversing their decline, then why not try our Discovering Bees course. We estimate that this course will take around 20 hours to complete, which can fit around your work or home commitments. Once you’ve got to grips with the basic ecology of bees, then we also have a field identification of bumblebee’s course as the next stage in our aculeate (bee, wasp & ant) series, where you’ll learn exactly how to identify different species of social bumblebee and make records of these important insects.