Bees & Weeds in Oxford

Our 6 month Bees & Weeds research project has finally delivered results.  During the past week we adopted guerrilla marketing tactics to promote the project, carrying out interventions in the streets of Oxford – installing and photographing cycle seat covers on scores of bikes around the city.

We performed an intervention at Broken Spoke Bike Co-op in Pembroke street and finally installed an exhibition of seat covers, and related work by students, at the Old Fire Station Gallery/Shop in Gloucester Green. The exhibition continues until April 25th. Blackwell’s bookshop in Broad Street is hosting the finale – a talk by our collaborator Prof. Dave Goulson on Friday April 24th.

This interdisciplinary project has involved several elements beginning with a visit by art students, from Banbury & Bicester College and Oxford Brookes, to Oxford University Museum of Natural History in September 2014 – the ultimate arts-science institution.  Students explored collections of British bumblebee species and discussed the importance of Taxonomy – the science of species classification – for the study of all species.  We studied research showing that we depend upon wild bees more than honey bees for food production in Britain.  We looked at reasons why British bumblebee populations have disappeared from the countryside to such an extent that there are now more bumblebee nests found in urban and suburban gardens.  Recent studies point to a combination of factors.  Pesticides have been weakening colonies making them more susceptible to parasites and diseases; industrial agriculture has destroyed habitats causing the loss of nesting sites and starvation due to the loss of flowers.

This is bad news – over 70% of Britain is agricultural land, suburban and urban gardens are therefore now strongholds for wild bumblebee populations.  Good new is – we can provide excellent bee habitat in gardens and any spare patches of land, by growing more wild flowers.  We’re challenging the definition of the term ‘weed’ because wild plants that bumblebees and other wild bees depend upon are also in decline, regarded as ‘weeds’, some are threatened with extinction.  We created a mini garden meadow based on research by Professor Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex showing that planting 25 times more wild flowers can increase the numbers of bumblebees by 50 times.

Images of bumblebee specimens from the collection at OU Museum of Natural History and wild flowers from the Lost & Found meadow were used to create the work below.  Thanks to our wonderful partners – see the end of the post – particularly Darren and Amo at OUMNH.