Thank you for your interest in the Bees ‘n Beans project: a study co-ordinated by the Goulson Lab of the University of Sussex, using Citizen Science methods to measure pollination provision in UK urban spaces. This project was sponsored by the Widening Participation scheme at Sussex, promoting fair access to higher education for all.

The project ran from mid-March - July 2015, with over 30 schools taking part, and updated regularly on the Schoolblog page.

We are currently analysing the data collected. Thank you very much to everyone who took part.

Schools - how are we doing? Blog here!

Project Rationale

Our wild pollinators are under threat from a variety of sources, such as habitat loss, changes in agricultural land use and management, climate change and disease. With one in three bites of food that we eat being produced as a result of insect-mediated pollination, and over 80% of EU crop species needing some degree of pollination activity to produce a harvest, the loss of pollinators is a serious and current concern.

There is a need to take measurements of UK pollinator populations, so that conservation effort can be best targeted at places that need it, and successes and declines in populations can be identified.

There is also a need to offer opportunities for people to get engaged with the natural environment around them, to show that ‘wildlife’ and its beneficial interactions with humans is not something that happens exclusively in the countryside or distant ‘wild’ areas, but is something that can be seen and understood in the same places that we live.

School Spaces

The first year of the Bees ‘n Beans project was run successfully in 2014, and its potential usefulness as a practical project for use in schools was identified as a result of feedback from participants. We then developed the ‘School Spaces’ version of the project, and tested it in participant schools in 2015.

The idea was to use the Bees ‘n Beans methodology to measure and compare pollination provision around the school grounds; setting up small, easily-managed experiments that will allow the results to be compared within the overall site, between schools, and across the country to see if there are local and regional differences in pollination.

Bees ‘n Beans is a simple, cheap and fun piece of outdoor fieldwork suitable for all ages, that can be used to explore ecological thinking, as well as scientific practice, and show how individual projects can contribute to large-scale pieces of work.

The project ran over the spring / summer terms in 2015.

Photos Will George 2013; Left to right: Bombus pascuorum, Bombus terrestris, Bombus lucorum
Common British bumblebees (left to right): Bombus pascuorum, Bombus terrestris, Bombus lucorum. (Photos: Will George, 2013)

Practical Summary

The project used both dwarf broad beans, and also a type of radish (‘rat tailed’ radish) that produces edible seed pods. The general principle was the same for both types of plant; for beans 3x mature (flowering) plants were needed for the experiment, for radishes 4x mature plants were needed; making 7 plants per experimental group:

  • Plants were germinated, grown on, and acclimated to outdoor conditions.
  • One plant was left alone to the attention of local pollinators.
  • One plant was bagged with garden fleece to exclude any pollinators.
  • One plant was hand-pollinated to see what the maximum yield would be.
  • A spare plant was needed per site to facilitate hand pollination of rat tailed radishes.
  • The number / weight of pods and seeds produced was recorded, along with characteristics of the experimental site, and a few observations on the patches of plants.

More detail of the practical procedures was provided in the Instructions document.

Educational Aims

The project complements teaching about plant life cycles, including pollination, and fruit and seed production:

  • The differences in yield between the netted plant, and the other pollinated treatments can be used to show the need for pollination.
  • The two different types of flower show adaptations between different insects and flower shapes. Particularly the accessibility of the pollen in the different shapes.
  • Observations of flower visitors illustrate what sort of insects provide pollination.

Because many crop plants (certainly the more interesting ones – like fruit and spices) have a requirement for pollination to successfully yield, this also fits into work on food security:

  • What crop plants need insects to pollinate them? And which ones do not?
  • A world without bees – what would be available?
  • Examples of places in the world where pollination is under-provided, and how it is handled.

It is not only crop plants that need pollination. Many wildflowers and plants, from common species to more exotic varieties, also rely on a variety of pollinators to set seed, and the ecological links can be explored.

  • British pollinators and examples.
  • Examples of other pollinators from around the world where different sorts of animal do the job – such as hummingbirds, bats, butterflies.
  • Interesting / unusual examples like flowers that attract flies by smelling like rotten meat.  
Market with fruit; hoverfly on radish flowers; lots of bean plants; honeybees by Will George 2013
Left to right: Many of our crops need pollination; by insects like hoverflies as well as bees; many bean plants from the same batch of seeds, showing variation; honeybees like these are important pollinators, but not the only ones (Photo: Will George, 2013)

Project kits, locations and costs


Each experimental group is 7 plants, and multiple experimental groups arranged on the school grounds can be included in the experiment (to make it a bit more interesting than just using one experimental group). Ideally these should be situated at least 500m apart from each other, or on different sides of the main building, to provide some isolation. A map of the grounds was produced, including information about what sort of land use surrounds the sites (gardens / road / allotments etc).

Equipment and costs

Participant schools decided how many project kits are required, and we sent them out free (as well as any replacements if anything is lost, damaged – or eaten!). Kits contained:

  • Dwarf Broad Bean seeds (variety “the Sutton”)
  • ‘Rat tailed’ Radish seeds
  • 3 litre foldable plastic pots (to make sure all plants in the experiment had the same amount of soil to grow in).
  • Instructions sheets, recording sheets.

Participants needed to provide:

  • Garden canes to support the plants (approx 35p each), or other supports.
  • Compost (approximately £6 per 50 -75L bag, depending on source. Homemade compost can also be used. Peat free if you can!).
  • Garden fleece for excluding insects, 2x 1m2 per experimental site (about £1 a metre depending on source)
  • Liquid feed (approx £3 per bottle)
  • Water
  • Small paint brushes for cross-pollinating the radishes

All pots should have contained the same compost. The prices are roughly based on prices available online at “Homebase” at the time of writing. The above works out at approximately £8 per experimental group if everything is bought from scratch, and becomes much cheaper if you already have some bits, or can use homemade compost.

Other Resources

Even though the project is closed, all documentation is still available from the Downloads section of this website, in both .pdf and editable .doc formats.

Download the School Spaces Instructions