Abra Ash

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology


Creating Bio-Inspired Synthetic Flowers to Support Standardised Monitoring of Pollinating Insects


  • Dr. Tom August, UKCEH
  • Professor Stephen Hallett, Cranfield University
  • Dr. Claire Carvell, UKCEH
  • Professor Leon Williams, Cranfield University

PhD Summary

Pollinator populations are declining at an alarming rate so demand for insect monitoring technology has increased including standardising attractants in the form of artificial flowers.  My project hopes to create artificial flowers that can attract various types of pollinators in the field to help with monitoring efforts.  If I can create different flowers with different specifications for different pollinators, it might be easier to monitor specific insect populations.  I plan to build a database of flowers with different attraction cues embedded in the design that can be used for any pollinator research or monitoring needs.  I will test out these flowers in both controlled environments and in the field alongside novel insect camera traps to help create a more precise and accurate pollinator monitoring.

Previous activity

Before my PhD I graduated from The University of Sussex with a BEng in Mechanical Engineering and an MSc in Global Biodiversity Conservation.  My dissertation project for each degree centred around designing artificial flowers for bee research which has given me the perfect background for my PhD project alongside having a background in engineering and ecology.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I enjoyed doing research during my dissertations and have always enjoyed learning new things and being challenged.  At university, I was passionate about my project with artificial flowers and bees to the point where my academic advisor saw this PhD, immediately thought of me and sent it over.  Once I read the title and description of the PhD project being advertised, I knew it was meant to be.

Why did you choose CENTA?

I knew if I joined a CENTA studentship, I would receive a lot of extra training that would be beneficial for my PhD to succeed.  Furthermore, I knew I would have added support from the CENTA cohort where I could talk to and get advice from like-minded people in a similar position to me.

Future plans

Studying at Cranfield and working with the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology gives me the chance to connect with top scientists in my field and experience both academic and industry research.  I hope to continue research in the future whether that is in academia or industry, and I hope to continue working with pollinators.