All over the world, beekeeping has become increasingly popular as a way for urban dwellers to reconnect with nature. The people of London have embraced it for a whole host of reasons: the honey, the stress relief, and the connection with nature. After all, beekeeping is ideal in a city of parks and gardens.London’s remarkable 25% green space is provided by private gardens of all sizes and types. Elegant garden squares, open public spaces and the famous Royal Parks, such as Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and St James’s Park. Together, these are home to a huge diversity of plant life.
The Taste of Honey
The rich variety of forage available here results in an amazingly complex tasting, and plentiful, supply of honey. It’s not just urban farmers and community gardeners who are getting involved, but people from all walks of life. They do it to help the environment and — perhaps most importantly — to escape the stresses of modern life. In short, they do it to put a little natural warmth back into their cool city lives.
Where do the bees live?
From backyards to Buckingham Palace, beehives are almost anywhere in London. More surprisingly, you can now find beehives on many of London’s rooftops — where bees need particularly careful handling. St Paul’s Cathedral and Tate Modern have them on their roofs, looked after by expert beekeepers. Historic department store Fortnum & Mason has had particular success with its sixth-floor hives, producing its exclusive Fortnum’s Bees Honey.
Beyond the UK, city beekeeping is equally popular. In Hong Kong, HK Honey (www.hkhoney.org) has installed beehives in local businesses around the city, and its network of beekeepers produces not only honey, but also soap and candles. In Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne City Rooftop Honey (www.rooftophoney.com) puts beehives on vacant rooftops and in disused gardens, and encourages businesses to sponsor or adopt them. And in the same city, Bee Sustainable (www.beesustainable.com.au) sells honey collected from urban hives, and runs beekeeping workshops.
No bees. No plants. No people.
In A World Without Bees, urban beekeeping experts Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum discuss how, if all the world’s bees disappeared, mankind would have only four years left to live. Without bees, there’s no pollination, and without pollination, there are no plants — and soon no animals, and then no humans. It’s a sobering thought that the western honeybee pollinates 70% of the food we eat. And it’s an extremely sound reason to become a beekeeper.
The beekeeper’s friend
But if the ultimate aim is to save bees (and therefore ourselves), it’s important to do it properly. Keeping thousands of bees happy, healthy and productive is a complex craft. Anyone who looks into a beehive is enthralled by this mesmerising miracle of organisation. And there’s plenty of help for those who want to learn. For example, The London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) (www.lbka.org.uk) offers in-depth training and a mentoring programme, which supports novice beekeepers, passing on a wealth of experience.
Bee friendly gardens
City dwellers who don’t practise beekeeping can still help protect our ecology and our food chain. “You don’t have to keep bees to save them,” says the LBKA. “There are many other useful things we can all do. We can plant ‘pollinator-friendly’ flowers, trees and plants. We can also stop using pesticides in our gardens. And we can support our local beekeepers by buying their honey.”