Bees entering a hive.

Thriving Hive


British Beekeepers Association




Dr Barbara Smith, Dr Martin Wilkes and Josh Elliott


April 2020 - November 2021

CAWR Research Theme

Resilient Food and Water Systems in Practice

Sustainable Development Goals

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Responsible consumption and production logo.

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Project Overview

Air pollution potentially impacts the health and productivity of honey bees via direct physiological damage that impairs function (such as vision or scent detection) or indirectly by weakening the immune system. These are sub-lethal effects at the hive scale but may potentially lead to negative outcomes such as poor larval development, increased susceptibility to diseases and parasites, or poor foraging ability.

We have found that pesticides have these effects on honey bees and this project will investigate whether air pollution components may have similar effects.

Air pollution contains many contaminants, for this study programme we will focus on small particulates, or particulate matter (PM), which is a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air. Some particles are released directly from a specific source, while others form in complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere. We will focus on particles less than or equal to 10 microns (PM10s) and 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5s). PM10s are approximately the size of pollen grains and are comprised of dust and mineral particles, whilst PM2.5s are very fine and can only be seen with an electron microscope. They come from types of combustion, including cars, power plants, burning, and some industrial processes. Information on both PM10s and PM2.5s are regularly mapped in the UK and are publicly available, but, importantly, it is unknown if this data is available at an appropriate scale for bees.

In this project we will locate air pollution monitors in apiaries across the Midlands and record incidence of particulate matter in hives and the bees that live in them.

Project Objectives

Our long-term aim is to determine whether there is a link between particulate air pollution and honey bee health and productivity, using methods we have developed in the context of agricultural pesticides we will undertake a three-step programme. The Thriving Hive project is implementing Stage 1 of this research.

Our research programme will test the following hypotheses:

H1: Particulates in air pollution will impact honey bee health and productivity
H2: The pathway is through sub-lethal impact on honey bee physiology including stress enzyme production, cell function and sensory systems.
H3: That these effects can be seen in both laboratory and field conditions.

To do this we will use a three-stage research programme:

  1. A correlative study to map air particulate levels, particulate levels in bee bodies and hive products and correlate this with disease, parasite loads and productivity.
  2. A laboratory study to investigate the physiological effects of particulate pollution on honey bees using molecular and neuroethological techniques. This will include testing for stress enzymes that indicate sub-lethal effects on bee health and protein regulation that indicate impacts on cell function.
  3. A field study to investigate whether the effects recorded in laboratory conditions are replicated in field conditions, using method from stage 2.
  • The understanding generated will help beekeepers consider the location of hives to benefit their bees, and support beekeepers in responding to consultations on air quality. Our work will inform policy makers on the impact of air pollution on British beekeeping.

  • Due to the recent outbreak of Covid-19 and the associated lockdown, the project implementation will take place in 2021. A website to engage and inform beekeepers is under development.

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