“Dinosaurs, robots and honeybees. I don’t know why, but everyone is fascinated,” says Richard Glassborow, chair of the London Beekeepers’ Association. However, is the increase in beekeeping in cities, causing harm?
As many of you bee lovers may be aware, in London especially, over the past couple of years, there has been a major increase in beekeeping within the city. This is believed to have been sparked by the worrying fact that our bee population has been declining. Beekeeping has been a trend that has been growing worldwide in the big cities. For example, in Berlin, beekeepers numbers grew by 53 percent between 2006 and 2012, according to one study. Similarly, New York City homes hundreds of hives, despite the fact that the city legalized beekeeping only seven years ago.
Recent data shows that in London, in five years, from 2008-13, the number of beekeepers in Greater London tripled from 464 to 1,237, and the number of hives doubled from 1,677 to more than 3,500.
A BBC research project compares how many bees are being kept in cities compared to farmland and nature reserves. Surprisingly, on average there are more bee species in cities than there are in the surrounding farmlands,” says Memmott. Stevenson adds that more than 50% of the UK’s bee species have been found in London, with 107 in Kew Gardens alone.
Perks of beekeeping in cities
There are believed to be many perks of beekeeping in urban areas. Firstly, there are fewer pesticides on the plants they feed, it encourages people to reconnect with nature (an aspect of life which is often forgotten in big cities) and it is helping those become more environmentally conscious.
Cause for concern
Whilst, it is true that our bee population has been in decline, it is a worry that this increase in beekeeping, especially in London, has occurred too quickly for the environment to keep up.
Campaigns encouraging people to save bees have resulted in this unsustainable proliferation in urban beekeeping. It is believed to be posing some issues due to the lack of flowers within the urban areas of London. Having a high density of honey bee hives only saves one species of bee, the honeybee. It does not take into regard how honeybees interact with other, native species.
It is very important to note that with the number of urban hives being on the increase, there needs to be sufficient food for them to feed on. It is helpful to think of beekeeping as a form of livestock raising instead of conservation. If we begin to think of it in this sense, we see that if more people are to be keeping bees, we need to similarly provide more flowers and habitat.
The BBC states, honeybees are very efficient, almost omnivorous consumers of nectar and pollen; they are voracious,” says Gibson. “There is no off button. They will carry on consuming what’s out there as long as it’s out there. Just to stay alive each beehive will consume 250 kilos of nectar and 50 kilos of pollen. If you have a hive of 70,000 bees, that’s 70,000 times four or five cycles over a single season. You are talking about almost half a million bees that have got to be fed.”
For all you city beekeepers, actions that you can take to help include, looking at ways to share hives, as well as reduce the number of hives in apiaries.
We also would love to encourage you to get behind planting programmes such as Buglife’s B-Line project. This is a project that seeks to establish wildflower corridors between pollinator hotspots to allow small local populations to expand and re-establish themselves.
And finally, if everyone was to plant a few flowers, plant something that’s good for bees and all those other important insects, we can encourage pollinators to do their own thing and give them enough forage so that they continue to survive.