Urban Utopia: How Cities Can Save Bee Populations

Every weekend (actually, make that every other day), I do my best to escape the city. Having grown up in the Yarra Valley, I have fresh air in my veins, and too long in the hustle-and-bustle makes me not-quite-right. Whether it’s a getaway to Tassie, or just a quick trip out to my parents’ property, the country is where my heart’s at.

Perhaps that is why I was surprised when I found out that my best friends, the bees, actually may prefer the glamour of city life! A study conducted by the French beekeepers’ 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.

In Melbourne, urban beekeeping is alive and well, with hives cropping up in backyards, balconies and the rooftops of restaurants and cafes. Community gardens like Ceres Community Environment Park and the Collingwood Children’s Farm precinct are urban havens, complete with places to eat and drink, animals and produce. These excellent inner city gardens also are the home of happy many bees, and you can hear their gentle buzz if you just listen! For a bit of background information, 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. I am the first person to promote this activity, having seen the profound effect in can have on both the environment and new beekeepers!

Recently, a research team from the University of Bristol delved further into ways in which cities could help save populations. They engaged fieldwork in nine different types of land, in four UK cities: Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh. And, as cities are made up of a number of environments, including parks, gardens, pavements, road verges and nature reserves, there was plenty to analyse! What they discovered was that allotments, or community gardens, are actually the best habitat for bees to thrive in the city, and that these spaces should be encouraged within all future town planning.

However, the benefits don’t end there! Community gardens, like Ceres and the Collingwood Children’s Farm, also help human wellbeing, as well as increasing sustainable food production. So, in the face of detrimental urbanisation, let’s all do our best to plant bee-friendly gardens, eat local produce, spend our money in small businesses with big hearts, and make the city a haven for all creatures great and small.

Urban Utopia: How Cities Can Save Bee Populations

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