About BeeWatch

Why are we doing this?

We are investigating whether new computer science technologies can benefit nature conservation programmes. Computer scientists and ecologists from the Aberdeen University are working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust on the online identification tool `BeeWatch'.

Two avant-garde computer science technologies are being used in BeeWatch: Natural Language Generation and Crowd Sourcing. Both technologies help you to become familiar with bumblebee identification, and generate a better collective understanding of the distribution of these important pollinators within our country.

Natural Language Generation (NLG) is a technology that analyses data to generate text. In BeeWatch NLG is used to generate feedback to participants. Immediately on submission, submitters who offer an identification of the bumblebee species receive feedback that contextualises the record with respect to historical data held by BeeWatch and the NBN. BeeWatch will then verify the species and come back to the submitter by email. The email text is also composed by a computer, but edited by an expert where needed. When BeeWatch determines the bumblebee to be a different species than indicated by the submitter, differences in identification features between the two bumblebees are used as data that form the basis of a text. This text is subsequently organised, screened against linguistic constraints and finally embedded in a wider feedback message which the expert uses as basis of the feedback emailed to the submitter. This allows our experts to concentrate on the identification and enables feedback that is much richer than otherwise would be the case due to time and resource constraints. We are continuing development of the NLG, and you can expect to see more contextualised feedback soon.

Crowd sourcing is the practice of obtaining information from a large group of people, often on-line. We are developing this practice for small groups of people with an interest in bumblebees, which one could call Group sourcing. BeeWatch needs such an approach because more and more people are submitting photos and we want to scale this up even further to obtain as much information as possible on the geographic spread of these important pollinators. Rather than having a few experts attempting to identify thousands of photos, we ask other people to suggest identifications. For many bumblebee species this leads to clear ‘majority votes’ in which case there is little use for an expert. In other cases, opinions are divided and an expert will conduct the identification.

The development of NLG feedback (and the infrastructure around it) has helped experts to identify bumblebees for far more submitted photos than in the past. Group sourcing allows many more people to take part in BeeWatch and train themselves up in bumblebee identification. If enough people take part, BeeWatch will be an unprecedented tool that allows society to see current distributions of all our bumblebee species and changes over time.

Where can I learn more about the science?

  • Rene van der Wal, Nirwan Sharma, Anne-Marie Robinson, Chris Mellish and Advaith Siddharthan. 2016. The Role of Automated Feedback in Training and Retaining Conservation Volunteers: a Case Study of Bumblebee Recording. Conservation Biology, John Wiley & Sons.
    Paper (pdf) / Show Abstract

  • Advaith Siddharthan, Christopher Lambin, Anne-Marie Robinson, Nirwan Sharma, Richard Comont, Elaine O'Mahony, Chris Mellish and Rene van der Wal. 2016. Crowdsourcing without a crowd: Reliable online species identification using Bayesian models to minimise crowd size. ACM Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology (TIST).
    Paper (pdf) / Show Abstract

  • Rene van der Wal, Helen Anderson, Ane-Marie Robinson, Nirwan Sharma, Chris Mellish, Ben Darvill, Advaith Siddharthan. 2015. Mapping species distributions: comparing the spread of UK bumblebees as recorded by the national repository and a citizen science approach. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, Springer Science.
    Paper (pdf) / Article at Springer.com / Show Abstract

  • Steven Blake, Advaith Siddharthan, Hien Nguyen, Nirwan Sharma, Anne-Marie Robinson, Elaine O'Mahony, Ben Darvill and Chris Mellish. Natural Language Generation for Nature Conservation: Automating Feedback to help Volunteers identify Bumblebee Species. In the Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING 2012), Mumbai, India.
    Paper (pdf) / Show Abstract

  • Who are we?

    BeeWatch is co-ordinated by researchers at the University of Aberdeen in collaboration with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT). The new Planting for Pollinators tools on BeeWatch have been developed in collaboration with BBCT, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), BWARS (Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording society) and Open Air Laboratories (OPAL).

    Beewatch was supported by RCUK's Digital Economy theme as part of Aberdeen University’s Digital Economy Hub to explore how digital technologies can help communities transform the way they manage, use and conserve natural resources.

    Planting for Pollinators is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).


    Bumblebee Conservation Trust is a charity that supports the conservation of bumblebees, and raises awareness and understanding of bumblebees.


    The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) network, led by Imperial College London, is a UK-wide partnership initiative that inspires communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environments through citizen science-based activities. OPAL began in 2007 and is funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Supporting UK-wide Great Ideas programme. For more information, please visit www.opalexplorenature.org or follow OPAL on Twitter @OPALNature.


    The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is established to share the best in gardening throughout the UK.


    BWARS is the national society dedicated to studying and recording bees,wasps & ants in Britain & Ireland.


    Privacy Policy

    BeeWatch is committed to protecting and respecting your privacy and complying with the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation. This policy sets out the basis on which any personal data we collect from you, or that you provide to us through your use of our website, will be processed by us.


    We are committed to processing information in a transparent manner and the aim of this document is to provide you with sufficient information for you to be able to understand what we are doing with your data. If you are unsure how we are handling information about you or you think we could improve our privacy information then please let us know.


    The BeeWatch privacy policy includes information on the following:

    • What data we keep
    • Why we keep it  
    • How we secure your data
    • How long we keep it for

    This Privacy Policy describes how BeeWatch collects and uses information, and what choices you have with respect to the information.


    BeeWatch pages is maintained by researchers from the University of Aberdeen in partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Your personal data will be held by both organisations and will not be passed on to third parties unless we are required to do so by legal, judicial, or governmental mandate. Anonymised Bumblebee records will be made available to other organisations such as the National Biodiversity Network. We may wish to contact you with updates on our work or with information about other ways in which you can support bumblebee conservation. You are free to unsubscribe from such communications at any time. You also have the choice over image use rights for your submitted photos. We would be grateful if you would permit both the University of Aberdeen and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to use these images in all internal and external media types, including, but not limited to: press, digital media, the BBCT website, intranet site and subsidiary sites, printed materials, posters and billboards. However, you may opt to maintain full copyright by ticking the ‘copyright’ box when submitting a photo.

    Who are we?

    BeeWatch is an online citizen initiative that collects data on UK bumblebees. It is co-ordinated by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

    The University of Aberdeen is the data controller in relation to the processing activities described below.

    Your Data - What personal data we hold

    When you register, you create an account and provide us with your name

    • Name
    • Username (the name you choose to identify yourself on BeeWatch)
    • E-mail address

    During your interactions with BeeWatch, we further record

    • Your contributions to BeeWatch, including data submitted and identification made
    • Details of your visits to the BeeWatch website and the resources that you access using cookies.
    • General communication we may have with you, when you contact us by email

    How do we use your personal information and data?

    When you sign up for a BeeWatch account, we keep your e-mail address to allow us to send you feedback on your bumblebee photo submissions. We also very occasionally send out a survey to receive your thoughts on BeeWatch and what we can do to improve what we do.

    Scientific data is carefully stored on University of Aberdeen Computer Systems. We may make BeeWatch records available in anonymised form to other institutions and researchers and national (i.e. National Biodiversity Network - NBN) and international (i.e. The Global Biodiversity Information Facility – GBIF) repositories, to further research, education and our national understanding of biodiversity and conservation issues. In no situation will your email addresses or names be shared in this process.


    Like many other websites, BeeWatch uses cookies and similar technologies to obtain an overall view of visitor habits and visitor volumes, and to provide you with useful and relevant information about your user activity in your profile. Cookies are files which store information on your hard drive or browser which enables our software to recognise that you have visited the Site before. Cookies can make it easier for you to maintain your preferences on BeeWatch.

    How we secure and store data

    All data is stored on password protected University of Aberdeen servers. The connection to the BeeWatch site is encrypted and authenticated using a strong protocol (TLS 1.2), a strong key exchange (ECDHE_RSA with P-256), and a strong cipher (AES_256_GCM).

    We do not share names and e-mail addresses with any other organisation than the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

    How long we keep data for

    We keep your e-mail address for feedback and correspondence until you notify us otherwise.

    On the settings page you can:

    • Change your personal details including e-mail address
    • Opt out of all e-mail (no feedback will be sent on your submissions, though these will still be visible on the website when you log in)
    • Opt out of e-mails about surveys on BeeWatch
    • Delete account (this will delete all personal data, including username, name and email, but will retain bumblebee records submitted to BeeWatch in anonymised form)


    Other ways we may share your personal information

    We may transfer your personal information to a successor body if the ownership of BeeWatch were to change. We may also transfer your personal information if we’re under a duty to disclose or share it in order to comply with any legal obligation, to detect or report a crime, to enforce or apply the terms of our contracts or to protect the rights, property or safety of our users. However, we will always take steps with the aim of ensuring that your privacy rights continue to be protected.


    If you have any questions or any concerns then please do get in touch with us - we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. You can contact us here or email us at beewatch@abdn.ac.uk


    Thank you for being a part of the BeeWatch community.