Food for Insect Pollinators in Towns and Cities

The Friends of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden welcomed 3rd-year UoB PhD student Nick Tew to discuss his findings on “Food for Insect Pollinators in Towns and Cities”. Nick focused on an optimistic outlook on the effects of urbanisation on pollinator species numbers in Bristol, and the unique conservation opportunities we can do in the city. He began by showing the plant experts, gardeners and local enthusiasts alike the delights of the ‘Bee Movie’, with a clip from the film representing our love for bees and apparent fast approaching doom as their numbers continue to dwindle.

Nick began with an interesting thought that media representations of plant pollinating species tend to focus on bees. ‘Pollinator Movie’ is a criminally underappreciated film idea, with other amazing pollinator species of wasp, fly, beetle and many more not enjoying the same media attention. The importance of pollinators in the sexual reproduction of flowering plants affects our natural world from our day to day lives to the scope of an entire ecosystem. For example, 76% of leading food crops have some degree of reliance on animal pollinators and is often key in producing good quality food rich in micronutrients. Plants have their own intrinsic value, and pollinators are vital in preserving the high diversity of plant species for future generations.

And this is why the figures showing a decline in our pollinator species are so impactful, with some habitats in Britain having a measured 55% drop in the number of pollinator species. Nick focused on the impact of land-use change, where natural wild grassland is converted for other, human-specific use. The most extreme land-use change is urbanisation. The building of cities leads to the removal of native plant species, warmer temperatures, and impervious surfaces. In general, land-use change is a hard and fast method in destroying biodiversity.

Nick’s own passion for allotment gardening and animal behaviour led him to his PhD thesis. Though urbanisation will negatively affect some pollinator species, bees appear to be particularly resilient to land-use change and can even find new opportunities. He theorises that this is because the larval and adult forms in bees feed on the same food sources, therefore do not need a specific plant to survive the juvenile stages. As generalised feeders, they can extract nectar and pollen from a variety of plants.

Nick began the first steps of his research in 2018 and measured the nectar content of over 200 flower species, including in the university’s own botanical garden. The measurements revealed that most of the nectar in urban areas are provided for by gardens. He found that urban areas had a more diverse array of pollinator species than farmland and nature reserves.

The second stage of his research found Nick visiting 59 different gardens in Bristol and measuring an estimated nectar production in individual gardens for each season. The gardens highly differed from one another, from their species types to the densities of plants. Generally, July was found to have the highest nectar production, with a drop in production starting in October.

However, Nick’s results showed the continuity of nectar when combining gardens together. As people plant different flowers from native and non-native species, a bee that may be able to forage in over 1000 gardens will likely be able to source nectar at each point of the year from at least a few gardens, even if the average output is minimal. The vivid pink and purple flowers of Fuchsia are a popular staple of UK gardens and are incredibly important in producing nectar in the Summer to Autumn months. In their native Americas, Fuchsia is pollinated by hummingbirds, so they produce high quantities of nectar. For UK insect pollinators, they present an absolute buffet. With this, Nick is able to present how the unique opportunity of gardens with a diverse range of flowering plants and non-native species in urban areas can actually lead to a more stable food source for pollinators.

So, what can people in cities do to help conserve our pollinator species? The opportunities presented by gardens in urban areas ride on a high diversity of flowering plants. Plant unusual flowers, ones that flower at different types of year. Think about planting 3D structure flowering plants, such as Fuchsia shrubs which can produce many flowers in one season. And, perhaps the easiest option, save your weeds! This means not pulling dandelions, clovers, and daisies that pop up in your lawn. If each available garden, green and allotment spaces are cared for with these points in mind, and with Nick’s expert opinion on which plants are best arranged together, we can help sustain our pollinators.

Written by Nicky Kobayashi-Boyd, Biology (BSc)

New fully-funded Lady Smyth MRes Studentship Opportunity

Are you passionate about ending world hunger, tackling global warming and finding ways to sustainably grow crops on our planet? Well, the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) is offering an opportunity for you to discover solutions to the big issues that humanity faces, through studying plant and agricultural science.

The new flagship Lady Smyth Studentship scheme from the BCAI has just launched offering two fully-funded Master of Research studentships at the University of Bristol. This award provides students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on ground-breaking plant science research and covers the full cost of fees, stipend, expenses, and a supplement to support the dissemination of the research. Some of the potential projects that can be tackled are listed below, but for full details and further information about the scheme visit:

How can farming methods help to mitigate climate change?

Dr Gary Barker

This project is concerned with the increasing temperatures worldwide, inefficient usage of land and the increasing demand for food due to the steadily growing population. It seeks to understand how farming systems can lead to a solution. To do so, it aims to engage with stakeholders and create discussions and case studies. The project pairs societal responses together with science to give a broader picture of the issues humanity faces today.

Function and development of super-hydrophilic slippery plant surfaces

Dr Ulrike Bauer

Understanding the mechanics behind the secretion of fluid on the trapping surface of some carnivorous plants may encourage the invention of more resilient plant crops with the help of high-tech equipment. The project uses morphometrics, time-lapse video and micro-imaging to give an insight on the surface development inside the hollow pitcher bud. This project will introduce you to a wide range of skills in the imaging and 3D reconstruction tech.

Clove production, Crop diversity and Biodiversity

Professor Tim Caro

Understanding what role different ecological matrices have on the health and productivity of clove trees based on observations from the biodiversity and interviews from clove-producers. The results from this project are crucial to dealing with food cost of land conversion and introduction of endemic island species.

Light control of leaf senescence

Professor Kerry Franklin

Leaf senescence controls the aging in plants and reduces the shelf life of postharvest plant crops. Phytochrome Interacting Factors (PIF) play huge role in this process. This project focuses on the manipulation and control of these transcription factors with the purpose of reducing food waste.

Identifying DNA sequences in crops with the potential to reduce soil erosion

Professor Claire Grierson

The goal of this project is to find a way to sustainable agriculture by avoiding soil erosion from crop plants. The selection of plants that are able to hold roots and soil together is important in achieving this. Through applying genetics and proteomics, genes that promote soil erosion can be identified.

The gene regulatory logic of plant stem cell function

Dr Jill Harrison

The objective of the research is to examine the basic requirements needed for plant stem cells to perform different functions in Arabidopsis. This is approached through looking into the interactions between different parts of the gene regulatory networks for stem cell function in a moss model.

Map the gap – making palm oil more sustainable by mapping yield gaps across tropical landscapes

Dr Thomas Jucker

Oil palm has the highest productivity out of all vegetable fats; however, it comes with a tremendous environmental cost. This project aims to identify ways to harvest oil palm more sustainably by using remote sense technologies to map different conditions under which oil palm grows best, giving more space for rainforests to be restored.

Re-engineering peroxisome movement in plants

Dr Imogen Sparks

New approaches to sustainably increase the food supply are needed to support the steadily growing population. Organelle movement is important in determining plant biomass and is linked to responding to pathogens. This project focuses on the mechanisms of organelle movement, specifically peroxisomes. Experiments will try to identify how changes in movement can affect cell size.

What is BCAI?

The Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) aims to support agricultural sciences within the University of Bristol through innovation, application and research. The centre is funded by the Lady Emily Smyth Trust, established in university in 2003. To preserve the legacy of Lady Emily Smyth, the BCAI has become the pioneer of agricultural research. To learn more visit:

Written by Antonia Yovcheva (Earth Sciences)

Careers Week 2020

3rd – 7th February 2020 marked the first-ever Life Sciences Building Careers Week… five days of presentations, panel discussions and employer stands! Here’s what went on and some useful things you may have missed…

The low down…

The week kicked off with talks and stalls for those who wanted to explore postgraduate study options, from the new MSc bioinformatics degree to informal chats with current postgraduate students, this proved a valuable day to clarify the next steps for those who aren’t ready to leave university just yet! With most undergrads eligible for 10% off postgraduate tuition fees, there may not be a better time to continue your studies at Bristol and enhance your future prospects.

Tuesday marked a day of invaluable CV advice and application help, from a CV cafe in the LSB atrium to awareness of some of the great resources that the careers service website has! Be sure to check out CV360 on the career’s website, a simple tool in which you upload your CV and get instant feedback. This service uses similar parameters to recruitment companies, giving you the same feedback as hiring managers receive!

Did you know…

You can use the careers service for up to three years after graduating!

On the penultimate day of what proved to be a very informative week, the careers service ran a ‘Careers Options and Resource’ workshop. Designed to show students the many doors that a science degree can open, this session also notified us about some great resources available to find your perfect job.

And finally, Friday, the best day of the week for many reasons, with three excellent panel discussions from a range of speakers (lawyers to cameramen, teachers to data scientists), these sessions were a great way for students to gain an insight into a typical day in their life and ask questions. Many listeners left these talks feeling very inspired to go out and find a job they love!

Students listening to the ‘careers in the media’ panel, photo Dr Bex Pike

Panel sessions:


  • Speakers included: Kathryn (Lawyer, Friends of the Earth); Vilas (Director, IES Consulting Ltd); Vondy (Data Scientist, Talking Money); Naomi (Environmental Monitoring Officer, Environmental Agency); Helena (Head of Media Solutions, Merkle)
  • Top tips: (1) Research a company and find out what they do, who their competitors are etc. before an interview. (2) Use gaps in your time to teach yourself a skill.


  • Speakers included: Mark (Producer, Director and Camera Operator), Pete (Documentary Cameraman), Theo (Wildlife Filmmaker), Louise (Sustainable Food Documenter), Ross (Zoologist and Entomologist).
  • Top tip: Find what exact part of wildlife filmmaking you like best e.g. cameraman, producer etc.


  • Speakers included: Maddy (Public Engagement Associate), Chris (Teaching Associate), Helena (Head of Science), Kyle (Teacher) and Sophie (Science Communicator).
  • Top tip: Volunteer at any events you can such as the Edinburgh Science Festival or British Science Festival.

Key messages from some of the speakers:

“Find what fascinates you then follow this to help you navigate a route through”

“Don’t ever think of a job as a forever job – do what makes you happy now”

“Wildlife filmmaking is a competitive industry but it’s undergoing a boom so there have never been more opportunities”

“Teaching is a very rewarding job, don’t be afraid to ask schools for some work experience or a shadow day, they’ll be more than happy to help”

Many thanks to all the organisers, LSB careers week was an excellent way to gain more clarity on navigating the world post-university. If you’re still unsure and want to know more visit the careers website online ( or in-person and check out the useful links above – GOOD LUCK!!

Written by Sophia Griffiths (Biology BSc)

Useful tools to check out: