School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing

How 'bees' are helping Leeds to retain its green spaces

In the Spring of 2022, I had a chance conversation with the team at Sensorbee over in Sweden about the difficulty in monitoring the urban heat island and microclimates in Leeds. 

Image of forestry

At the time I was using Bluetooth enabled sensors which meant walking and driving across the city to download data, often finding that the sensors had failed anyway. I mentioned the dream of having completely wireless sensors that we could deploy city-wide. To my surprise and delight, they liked the idea and we set about creating a joint venture with Sensorbee to develop a high accuracy air temperature and relative humidity sensor that could upload data over the GSM mobile network. Just over nine months of development and the BeeUrban sensor has been born. We have nearly finished installing these throughout Leeds and its suburbs so if you see any of them, please look after them. They’ve essentially become my work babies and it has been tough letting them go off into the big wide world.

Data from these sensors will allow us to understand the urban heat island and city microclimates at a high temporal and spatial resolution, with each sensor recording data every 15 minutes. This sensor network has allowed us to secure funding for a number of different projects that will run over the whole of 2023. Two of these will help us to understand the impact of green space on the urban heat island. The first of these is a Fellowship I have been awarded with support from Prof Cat Scott and Dr Jim McQuaid at the University of Leeds; the Treescape Regulation of Urban Environments (TRUE) project has been funded through the NERC Future of UK Treescapes programme. Results from TRUE will help to understand the role treescapes have on the urban climate and air quality. 

The second project, Small Urban Park Environments and Residents (SUPER) is a collaboration between me, our own Prof Fiona Fylan, Dr Jim McQuaid and the fantastic team at Slingshot Simulations Ltd, based in the Nexus building. The SUPER project aims to characterise the atmospheric benefits of small urban parks in the context of neighbourhood access and user motivation. All of this has also benefitted from the support of numerous people within Leeds City Council, and in particular Richard Crowther and Andy Hickford. Results from both projects will help to justify the retention of existing urban green space and to hopefully promote its expansion in the future.

All of this has been made possible by investment from our own School, who I’m grateful to for trusting me in this endeavour – I’ve had some odd looks over the years when telling people that I’m researching the urban heat island in Leeds! I’m really grateful for the trust from the School of Built Environment, Engineering and Computing to develop this joint venture and also to David Löwenbrand, Jonas Blick, Elixer Rodil and the rest of the team at Sensorbee over in Sweden. It has been pretty popular at home too – my own daughter is called Bea and I’m still keeping the idea alive that these were named after her. So, it has all been pretty emotional, but 70 of them are out there now and I’m trusting Leeds to look after them all… 


Dr Jim Parker

Reader / School Of Built Environment, Engineering And Computing

Dr Parker specialises in building energy modelling and the urban environment. He manages externally funded research projects, collaborates with industrial partners and supports undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral students.