Keeping beehives on top of apartment complexes and hotels has been widely touted as an excellent way to undo the urban jungle’s evils. New York City now has hundreds of registered hives and its own beekeepers association, after a 1999 ban on beehives in the city, while Rudy Giuliani was mayor, ended in 2010.
Now, two scientists say that urban beekeeping may not be in the best interest of bees and may not be the solution to address falling honeybee numbers. The reason, say Francis Ratnieks and Karin Alton from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, is that cities simply lack sufficient flowers and plants for bees to feed on.
As a result, urban beekeepers too often end up feeding their bees sugar water or syrup. That’s tantamount to feeding them “hamburger,” Angela Woods, secretary of the London Bee Keepers Association, once said to WNYC news.
Drop in Bee Populations in the U.K. and the U.S.
Bees have routinely been in the news on both sides of the Atlantic because of alarmingly declines in their numbers; study after study has shown that pesticides are more than contributing to the deaths of too many bees.
A survey carried out by the British Beekeepers Association found that, since records were first kept starting six years ago, the past winter’s losses of honey bee colonies have been the worst. Over the past 60 years, the number of managed hives in England has shrunk, from 300,000 to 135,000.
Can a City Have Too Many Bees?
You’d think it would be good news that the number of hives has doubled over the past five years in London, with some 25 honeybee hives for each square mile of the city. But Ratnieks and Alton say that there’s now just too many bees and even the most well-intentioned beekeepers could find themselves with hives of sick and starving insects.
New York beekeeper Andrew Cote raised a similar concern about New York not having enough flowers to support its growing bee population back in 2010. Cote, who produces and sells “hyperlocal” honey and is an advocate for the benefits of beekeeping, noted three years ago that his honey yields had fallen by 50 percent as beekeeping rose in popularity among New Yorkers.
New York does not regulate how many hives an individual beekeeper can have; Cote has around 50. Now that beekeeping is rising to the levels of popularity that he, Ratnieks, Alton and others note, cities may start considering more regulations about beekeeping to ensure that too many hives are not concentrated in a single area.
Let’s Make Cities More Bee-friendly
Ratnieks and Alton have a solution to this dilemma. Urban bee aficionados can forego keeping hives and still do their part by planting bee-friendly flowers and herbs. As they write in The Biologist: “To have bees you don’t need a bee hive. Just plant bee-friendly flowers such as marjoram … and lavender in your garden.”
There are plenty of reasons why cities should place more emphasis on promoting beekeeping among residents. Bees’ pollinating behavior helps foster fresh, local produce. Allergy sufferers can only thank bees for reducing the amount of pollen in trees.
City officials should also take measures to promote bee populations by restricting the use of pesticides and by themselves planting bee-friendly flowers and plants. They also need to make sure that they provide plenty of parks and other green space where those plants can grow. Many an urban beehive is tucked away on the roof of a tall building but bees can’t feed on concrete and metal. A city that’s more friendly to bees, thanks to an abundance of flowering plants, could be a lot more appealing to humans too.
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