Farewell to INSIGNIA – Welcome to INSIGNIA-EU!

The recently completed INSIGNIA project “Environmental monitoring of pesticide use through honey bees” was designated as a “pilot project” with the primary aim of producing a tried and tested Guideline which could then be used as part of a much larger monitoring project covering the entire European Union.

We are pleased to announce that today an agreement was signed with the European Commission DG Environment for a follow up project entitled: “Preparatory action for monitoring of environmental pollution using honey bees”, which will be known as “INSIGNIA-EU”. The INSIGNIA-EU consortium consists of 14 partner organisations, all of them members of the original INSIGNIA consortium, based in 10 different European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK).

The INSIGNIA-EU project will operate for 30 months, with a total budget of some €4M. It will involve sampling for pesticides and the botanical origin of pollen according to the existing INSIGNIA Guideline, but the sampling programme will also be expanded to include further forms of pollution encountered by honey bees, such as air pollutants (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds), heavy metals, microplastics and fine dust / particulate matter. Pilot studies of sampling strategies for these additional pollutants will be carried out during 2022 in three countries: Austria, Denmark and Greece.

In 2023, sampling for the full range of pollutants will be carried out in all 27 EU Member States, using a National Coordinator scientist based in each Member State in association with local beekeeper Citizen Scientists, who will sample their own bee colonies during the season. Data produced during the project will then be used to produce exposure risk maps for honey bees for the range of pollutants in all countries sampled.

Look out for further information about the exciting new project in the coming months!

The photo shows INSIGNIA-EU Coordinator Dr Sjef van der Steen (Alveus AB Consultancy, Netherlands) signing the Service Agreement with EC DG Environment.

More popular articles published…

With samples of pollen in alcohol, and ApiStrips from the first four sampling rounds of 2020 having arrived at the laboratories in Portugal, Spain and Greece for analysis, and with beekeepers in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and the UK preparing for the sixth sampling round this weekend, it is a busy time for the INSIGNIA project. The process of disseminating information about the project also continues, with articles about the progress of the project in popular beekeeping journals having recently been published in Austria, Germany, Greece, Latvia, the Netherlands and the UK. Further articles will be published soon in other participating countries…

What are APIStrips?

Many people have been asking about the APIStrips, which are a key feature of the INSIGNIA project. A paper describing the strips has now been published in the journal: “Science of the Total Environment” written by María Murcia-Morales and Amadeo Fernández-Alba from the University of Almeria, Spain, and colleagues from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Honey bee colonies have been shown to be effective bio-samplers of contamination within their foraging area, as organic compounds such as pesticides will be continuously deposited in their hives. The use of honey bee colonies for the biomonitoring of contaminants usually requires the sampling of biological materials from the hives such as bees, pollen, honey or beeswax. “Active” sampling in this way will inevitably affect the colonies, especially if the sampling is at regular intervals. As an alternative, the team at the University of Almeria devised the APIStrip (Adsorb Pesticide In-hive Strip). This a non-biological sampler which consists of a plastic strip coated with Tenax TA, a stable material which is exceptionally effective at adsorbing pesticide residues. A process of dissolving the Tenax in a solvent before coating the strips ensures that the bees cannot remove it. The pesticides and related contaminants adsorbed onto its surface can then be extracted and analyzed by chromatography and mass spectroscopy. It has been found that a 14 day exposure of the strips is optimal, and that the pesticides collected on the strip are stable. In the first year of the INSIGNIA Project, 2019, the APIStrips were compared with another passive device, the Beehold Tube, and two hive products, pollen and beebread. The APIStrip was found to be the most effective in collectring pesticide residues. Field studies in Denmark, over a six month period demonstrated their value and applicability by detecting 40 different pesticides.

In the 2020 study, APIStrips are being used in two honey bee colonies at nine sites in each of nine countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and the UK, and in bumble bee colonies in the Netherlands. The results for pesticide residues will be combined with information about the crops and wild plants on which the bees have been foraging using trapped pollen analysed using a DNA metabarcoding technique. Pollen samples and APIStrips were collected from the bee colonies last weekend, the first of ten scheduled sampling periods in 2020.

The paper: “APIStrip, a new tool for environmental contaminant sampling through honey bee colonies” is available here:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720324657

How Covid-19 has affected the INSIGNIA project

The global Covid-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of life. As well as ceasing one-to-one teaching, many universities have closed down their laboratory research programmes and fieldwork for the foreseeable future. As an international research project, INSIGNIA, which is using honey bees to sample their environment for pollution, has also been affected.

This weekend is the setup weekend for the INSIGNIA 2020 sampling, which is being carried out in nine European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia and the UK). Beekeepers will be inserting the first ApiStrips (special plastic strips coated with a substance designed to absorb chemical residues) into their hives for the start of this year’s sampling. With movement restrictions in all countries, this has, however, led to some changes.

Fig. 1. GoTo Meeting between International Coordinator Sjef van der Steen, National Coordinator Fani Hatjina, and Greek beekeeper citizen scientists.

Continue reading “How Covid-19 has affected the INSIGNIA project”

INSIGNIA set up in the UK

This weekend is the setup for the 2019 sampling in Austria, Denmark, Greece and the UK. Pollen traps will be put on to the hives for the bees to get used to them, together with BEEHOLD tubes and APISTRIPS. The first samples will be collected in a fortnight’s time. In the UK, four apiaries will be used in Hertfordshire, Surrey (2) and East Sussex. The sites provide a range of landscapes from a national nature reserve with heathland and woodland to urban areas.

The photo shows volunteers Tony, Bill and Sue from the Chalfonts Beekeepers Society (Buckinghamshire) who will be managing the hives at Bill’s home in Hertfordshire.


The British Beekeepers Association Spring Convention


First day at the British Beekeepers Association Spring Convention at Harper Adams University, Shropshire, UK. Attended by some 2,000 or so people, this is a three day event with a lecture programme ranging from beginner beekeepers talks to the very scientific, this year with speakers from the UK, USA, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Italy, workshops on a variety of practical topics, and a one day trade show. Several members of the INSIGNIA Consortium have given talks at the conference over the last few years. Today Norman Carreck gave a talk about “science for the beekeeper” showing the importance of using the results of bee research to improve our understanding of bee biology, and hence to help the beekeeper to understand bee behaviour and improve our beekeeping. He used as an example the COLOSS CSI Pollen project and introduced the new INSIGNIA project to the audience. Two of the UK beekeeper volunteers who will be talking part this season are present at the convention.

Personal view of the Apimondia symposium

A personal view of the Apimondia symposium held from 13-14 February in Rome by Sjef van der Steen

This is my personal impression, not describing the presentations, talks and posters but my interpretation. The note will therefore be biased towards my personal interests and work-fields. For detailed information, you can find the abstracts in the Apimondia symposium abstract book of this event. Many veterinarians attended the meeting, showing the interest of veterinarians in bee health and the environmental impact of bee well being and the direction of Apimondia in this. The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe presented a veterinarian approach of bee disease. To outline the position of honeybees in veterinary, honeybees are considered to be MUMS (Minor User = Minor Species). The FAO was present its SPGs (Sustainable development Goals) in which beekeeping plays an important role in banning poverty. Continue reading “Personal view of the Apimondia symposium”

Home-made Beebread Collector

The INSIGNIA project will involve the beekeeper citizen scientists collecting pollen samples using pollen traps, but the scientists have concerns about possible degradation of chemical residues in the pollen during the sampling period, storage and transport. For this reason, we will also be testing two alternative methods of collecting pollen, an innovative passive device, of which more later, and the collection of beebread from the colonies. Beebread is pollen collected by the bees as pollen pellets, and then packed into broodcombs for the colony to use. In the packing process enzymes are introduced by the bees so that its composition changes slightly, thus improving its storage properties. Previous methods of sampling beebread mainly involve damaging brood combs, but in the latest issue of Bee World, Giulio Loglio from Italy with colleagues from Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale del Lazio e della Toscana “M. Aleandri” and other INSIGNIA colleagues describe a low cost beebread collector which can collect a sample without damaging the combs. This will be trialled in Year 1 of the INSIGNIA Project.
The article can be found here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0005772X.2018.1556905

Kick off meeting – INSIGNIA


The first “kick off” meeting of the INSIGNIA consortium took place in Oisterwijk, Netherlands in November 2018. The meeting was attended by 18 participants representing 15 institutions from 11 countries. After initial introductions and the completion of some formalities, detailed discussions took place to establish the experimental protocols which will be used in the first year of the project. An article intended for beekeeping magazines introducing the project has been written and has been published in Denmark, to be followed by magazines in Portugal and the UK.