Bees play a vital role in our ecosystems. These busy, buzzing garden insects are responsible for one in three mouthfuls of food we eat every day. But the UK’s bee populations are in decline, owing to climate change, disease, and intensive farming methods, which reduces biodiversity through habitat loss and pesticide use. This is why urban bee keeping has never been so important. If we can keep healthy numbers of bee colonies alive in our cities, we’ll be helping to counteract this potentially disastrous trend. Lucky for the bees, there are many different ways us urbanites can help.
Tomato plants, apple trees, lavender, strawberry plants, honeysuckle, foxgloves, roses and herbs. These are all bee-friendly foods that are nectar-rich and will make your local honey and bumble bees very happy. All can be grown in pots, so even if you don’t have a garden to cultivate with wild flowers, you can still entice bees onto a roof terrace, allotment, balcony or window box. For more inspiration on what bees like to eat, visit London’s Capital Bee website. The project is part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s Capital Growth initiative that aims to create 2,012 new community growing spaces by 2012.
Organic farmers grow crops without using pesticides or insecticides, so no bees are harmed in the growing process. By choosing to buy organic vegetables, or locally sourced products from London’s farmers’ markets, you’re helping to support bee colonies and a more sustainable way of living. To find locally produced honey check out Tower Bridge beekeeper Steve Benbow’s London Honey Company, or come to the London Honey Festival next month.
According to Capital Bee, there are 2,400 registered bee hives in London, and many of these can be found on the roof tops of business. From publishing houses and art galleries to law firms, professional organisations are increasingly looking for ways to boost their corporate social responsibility, and hosting a hive is a prime exmaple. Local London improvement project inmidtown is helping businesses in Bloomsbury, Holburn and St Giles set up roof-top hives.
You could take it one step further and get your organisation, university, or borough to gain bee guardian status. Run by the Bee Guardian Foundation, the scheme aims to create a national network to promote bee diversity and protect wild bees – of which there are thousands of species. According to Jessie Jowers, who co-founded the organisation, the pollination that one red mason bee can do is equivalent to that of 120 honey bees. The foundation is piloting its first bee guardian city in Gloucester, and aims to expand into more UK urban hubs soon.
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This year, Capital Bee created 50 new community bee hives across the city to provide even more sanctuaries for the urban bee. If you’re keen to get your own bee hive, there are several London-based courses for budding apiarists. The Soil Association and the London Beekeeping Association run beginner and taster courses on urban been keeping. Alternatively, local groups such as the North London Beekeepers Association offer classes and advice to members on all aspects of keeping a hive. For a handy resource that allows you to connect with other beekeepers, suppliers and wannabees(!) in the London area, Urban Bees.com has an interactive map pin-pointing their locations and contact details.
Lead image by Ndboy courtesy of Flickr