London’s Downtown Bees
We might imagine that bees would thrive in the countryside. However, the city is where it’s at for the bees of the world! A study conducted by the French bee keepers’ association, Unaf, in 2006 suggested that bees from city apiaries are healthier and more productive than their country counterparts. This research determined that urban bees enjoyed higher temperatures, a wider variety of plant life to pollinate, and avoided the ill-effects of pesticides. And happy bees are what I found when I arrived here today in London town!
After a hiatus exploring the wonders of Singapore, I have finally arrived in London, where urban beekeeping has been on the rise for over ten years. For some background, urban beekeeping—also known as hobby beekeeping or backyard beekeeping—most likely began in the mid twentieth century and is the practice of keeping bee colonies in urban areas. These operations can be as small as a single hive, are generally low-cost, and produce great results due to the hard work of the bees themselves. It is without doubt that keepers in London are some of the world’s most innovative, with hives appearing in unusual places, such as nooks on the many terraces and rooftops sprinkled across the city.
Downtown London—gritty, fashionable, multicultural, densely populated and alive—is now home to crowds of buzzing bees. In the last seven years, the number of beehives in this wonderful city has roughly doubled, increasing the supply of delicious locally produced honey to the city’s residents and restaurants. In a city of almost 9 million people, the inclination to house bees may stem from our desire to reconnect with nature in a very intimate way; the connection between bees and humans is strong, as we realise just how vital they are to our own survival.
And London itself is in a good position to house these remarkable insects, as the nectar-rich pollinating plants that bees require can be found here in large varieties: in fact, there is a whopping 61% of green space across the city, with 22% of London covered in a canopy of trees. And although there is some concern that the city might not be able to cater for the huge number of urban bee hives that have continued to appear, the actual type of forage available for the bees is fantastic quality. In fact, the city’s unique microclimate and mix of native and exotic flora leads to a unique tasting honey, often with the citrusy tang of London’s lime trees!