Celebrity beekeepers told to buzz off

The BeeHolder, Summer 2012

For many years I have been jealous of my beekeeper friends in London and Birmingham. Their bees get to work earlier in the year, stay productive longer and give a greater amount of honey. Urban Beekeeping always seemed easier than country beekeeping in Rural Wales. First the biodiversity is greater in an urban environment and the amount of insecticide used per hectare is probably less. Now we learn from the London Evening Standard’s Crime Editor, Justin Davenport, that London’s bees are under threat of starvation and disease because of a boom in the number of urban beekeepers. Experts say there is not enough food or forage in the city’s parks and gardens to sustain the huge and growing number of hives. They blame celebrity beekeepers and big city firms for setting a trend which has driven a surge in the number of people keeping bees.

Angela Woods, secretary of the London Beekeeping Association, said: “There is simply not enough forage to go around. A square kilometre of forage is enough to sustain five colonies. If you take a square kilometre around the Royal Festival Hall, there are now 156 registered colonies while there are likely to be many more which are unregistered.”

She added: “It has almost got out of control in London. It has become fashionable to have bees, partly I think because of the recession. People are going back to nature and there is a celebrity aspect to it as well.”

There are thought to be 3,200 apiaries within the Greater London area, though only about 75 per cent of beekeepers register their hives. Campaigns to halt the decline in bees and celebrity enthusiasts such as TV presenters Kate Humble and Bill Turnbull have recently boosted interest.

Ms Woods says there is also concern about a growing trend for businesses to site hives on high rooftops. She said ideally A bee hive with Grand Designs?hives should not be higher than a two-storey house, otherwise bees spend too much energy flying up and down to the hives. Ms Woods did not name any companies but a number of well-known London businesses and corporations have installed rooftop hives, including Fortnum & Mason, the London Stock Exchange and the Royal Lancaster Hotel next to Hyde Park.

She added that the association did not want to discourage people from keeping bees, but urged Londoners and the city’s parks to grow more bee-friendly food. The lack of forage — nectar and pollen from flowering plants — has resulted in low honey yields. Experts say the annual yield for a hive should be a minimum of 35lb of honey, which allows keepers to take some and leave the rest for the bees. Now a typical yield for London hives is only 31lb.

Ms Woods said: “Beekeeping is a fantastically rewarding hobby but we are getting really worried about the future. People do not realise that the more bees they introduce to London the more they are contributing to their own demise. There are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon without realising the risks.”

Adapted by Tony Shaw from an Article in the Evening Standard by Justin Davenport the Crime Editor