Illustrator Jim Spendlove and ecologist Beatrice Dale present their collaboration project, ‘Foraged Codes’. Foraged codes is a visual representation of the available forage for Newcastle’s honeybees over a season. This collaboration project combines Beatrice’s pollinator research with Jim’s unique illustration style, allowing complex scientific principles to be translated across disciplines.
The rationale
Pollinators are essential to the life cycle of many plants. However, declines have been reported for all key pollinator groups, with urbanisation thought to be key to these declines¹. This is likely because urbanisation causes a loss of native plant species²⁻³, which can leave pollinators with little, or the wrong type, of food. For this reason, Beatrice and the research team at Northumbria University are interested in looking at the type and amount of food available for pollinators in Newcastle.
The concept
Pollen pellets are tightly packed balls of pollen grains; which honeybees bring back to their hive for sustenance. It has long been understood by beekeepers that the colour of pollen pellets gives an indication of which plant species their honeybees have been foraging on. In the past, colour charts have been created to identify which plant species corresponds with the colour of pollen pellets that honeybees collect. However, everyone’s colour vision is different, often making the use of colour charts difficult.
Sarah Hornby and the research team at Northumbria University discovered a method by which you can scan pollen pellets to get a universal code depicting the colour, called the Red, Green, Blue code⁴. This assigns a code to the colour of the pollen which can then be matched with the plant it came from. Beatrice has collected pollen pellets from two hives in Newcastle, to create this colour coding chart, attempting to answer the questions; what are urban honeybees’ favourite foods, and how can we increase them?
The art
Jim’s illustrations depict this research process and the local area, both natural and non-natural. Jim’s work is a mixture of ink drawings, and digital illustrations, which are coloured using the exact colour codes from the pollen collected during the month that the illustration was created. This will give a visual representation of the change in available forage for honeybees in this area over time. Jim’s work in this project combines his classic style of line drawing with comic book influences. This creates a more accessible and surreal look to these illustrations, juxtaposed with the very real issue behind their inspiration.

1.    IPBES (2016) The Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on Pollinators, Pollination and Food                   Production.
2.    Banaszak-Cibicka et al. Wild bees along an urban gradient: winners and losers. Journal of Insect Conservation 2012;16(3):331-43.
3.    Somme et al. Food in a row: urban trees offer valuable floral resources to pollinating insects. Urban Ecosystems 2016;19(3):1149-61.
4.    Hornby et al. Methods in melissopalynology: colour determination of pollen pellets for colour vision deficient individuals. Palynology 2022;46(4):1–7.

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