How Can Cities Save Bees? Row Errupts Over London's Bee Strategy

urban bee photo

Image credit: Pete Birkinshaw, used under Creative Commons license.

Cities everywhere may be lifting bans on urban beekeeping, but what with the mysterious red bees of Brooklyn, not to mention bee murder in San Francisco, you'd be forgiven for thinking that cities are not the best environment for our favorite little pollinators. In fact, says one commentator, cities can do more than we would imagine to help save the honeybee. Writing over at The Guardian, Rosie Boycott talks of the crucial role cities can play in saving bees. She starts out making the case—heard many times by now, but it bares repeating—for why honeybees are such a vital element in modern agriculture. In fact, says Boycott, it is images of farmers in China pollinating orchards by hand because of a lack of bees, that she argues is one of the defining images of 2010.

But what has all this got to do with cities, you might ask. A lot, says Boycott:

"People may think that bees play no part in city life. Not true. When Boris Johnson launched Capital Growth two years ago, with the aim of creating 2012 new food-growing spaces by 2012, none of us realised just what an enthusiastic response we would get from communities across the capital. We now have 700 new vegetable gardens and are well on target to create another 1,300 by the end of 2012. Some are on roofs, some in parks, some on estates, in school yards, in deserted and neglected spaces on building sites. A few of the projects are planting orchards as well as vegetables. One street I visited recently is planting a communal orchard - each house is growing two or three different trees and the results will be shared by everyone. We need the bees, and indeed, London produces fantastic honey as bees forage across a very broad range of plants, both native and exotic."

That's why Boycott, the Mayor of London's "Food Champion:, is launching Capital Bee—an initiative to provide over GBP42,000 (about US$60,000) in support to community groups interested in beekeeping. The initiative has been welcomed by the British Beekeepers Association, but not everyone is so happy. Another article over at The Guardian quotes representatives of London beekeeping associations attacking the Capital Bee scheme, arguing that it will see them overrun with amateur beekeepers who don't know what they are—at a time when the local groups are already oversubscribed. It would, say these London beekeepers, be far better for the uninitiated to spend their time providing flowers, trees and other bee-friendly forage plants, than actually keeping bees themselves. John Chapple, chair of the London Beekeepers Association, put it this way:

"Rather than jumping on the beekeeping bandwagon, Boris should stop parks from planting double-headed flowers that provide no nectar or pollen, cutting back trees and shrubs that provide vital forage for bees, and spraying with chemicals." He added: "Londoners who want to help bees would do better planting bee-friendly trees and flowers and lobbying for a more bee-friendly city, rather than keeping them."

As a recently failed beekeeper myself, I understqand both the responsibility involved, and the ease with which well-intentioned efforts can become a waste of resources. Nevertheless, given the complains that have come for years about a lack of support or acknowledgment for the role that beekeeping plays in our food systems, it's hard to now listen to beekeepers complaining when the UK's capital city steps up to provide both material support and training for a new generation of beekeepers.

More on Bees, Beekeeping and Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony Collapse Disorder and the Epic Fight to Save the Bees
Vanishing of the Bees: A Documentary
Honeybee Disappearances Finally Solved?
Honeybee Mystery Solved? Not Quite, Say Experts.
National Wildlife Federation's List of Tips to Help the Honeybee

Related Content on