PE 031b: Tomato: Phase 3 of an investigation into poor pollination performance by the native bumblebee, Bombus terrestris audax


  • In 2014, Natural England withdrew permission to use non-native bumblebees, Bombus terrestris terrestris (Btt), in unscreened glasshouses and tomato growers must now use the native sub-species, Bombus terrestris audax (Bta) to pollinate crops. As a consequence, many growers have suffered substantial financial losses due to poor fruit set (e.g. up to £50k per hectare reported).
  • In 2017, the British Tomato Growers’ Association (TGA) conducted an AHDB-funded survey PE 031 to determine the extent of the problem.
  • Leading on from the survey, phase 2 PE 031a a 6 month practical investigation was commissioned which investigated Bta colony life and aspects of Bta behaviour in tomato crops as well a preliminary study of pollen production in small fruiting tomato cultivars.
  • The current project, Phase 3 (PE 031b), will monitor many aspects of Bta biology and behaviour in tomato crops using new remote sensing equipment which allows researchers to record Bta within-hive and foraging activity in real time from their own laboratories. In addition, PE031b will quantify the effects of high temperature on pollen production and viability.


Project code:
PE 031b
01 January 2019 - 31 December 2021
AHDB sector cost:
Project leader:
Mr Philip Pearson, Pollards Nursery


PE031b Annual Report GS 19April 20 PE031b Annual Report 19 April 20 PE031b Annual Report GS 2020 PE031b Annual Report 2020 PE031b_Final_ReportGS PE031b_Final_Report

About this project

Aim: To reduce financial losses resulting from production deficit, increased labour and excessive hive input caused by the enforced change to Bombus terrestris audax for pollination of UK tomato crops. 



  • Monitor the activity of Bta hives in commercial crops and correlate changes in hive activity with crop management practice.
  • Quantify the effects of high temperatures on within-hive bee behaviour, and pollen production and viability.
  • Compare the activity levels of Bta with non-native Bt.