How do-gooders threaten humble bee

The middle-class fashion for new hives is well-intentioned, but there's not enough nectar and pollen for them all

A A A

The plight of the honey bee has triggered a huge increase in amateur beekeeping over the past decade, with individuals and companies rushing to put hives in their gardens or on city rooftops. But, for the first time, there are signs that the trend may be causing more harm than good.

A huge surge in bee colonies in London in the past few years has created intense competition for nectar and pollen. Honey yields in the capital are considerably lower than in previous years, figures to be published on Tuesday will show, suggesting that bees are struggling to produce enough to sustain their hives because of limited supplies of wildflowers.

The London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) is warning that there could be "too many bees" in the Greater London area for the environment to sustain. One beehive needs 120kg of nectar and 20kg to 30kg of pollen a year to sustain its bees; honey production will decrease if there are not enough pollinator-friendly plants to meet demand.

In 2008 there were 1,617 bee colonies in the capital and surrounding areas, and by this year that had more than doubled to 3,337. Yet at the same time, the average amount of honey produced in hives has slumped. The annual honey survey by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA), which collects hive production figures from 75 per cent of beekeepers, reported an average of about 11kg of honey produced per hive in 2010 and 2011. The new figures will show this has fallen dramatically.

While this year's rainy spring and summer are being blamed in part on a reduction in honey yields, the amount in London is said to be lower than the rest of the UK, suggesting another factor has been at work.

Angela Woods, secretary of the LBKA, insisted that the organisation did not want to discourage people from keeping bees, but warned that new hives must be accompanied by extra planting of nectar-rich flowers. The poor honey production suggested that creation of forage for bees had not kept pace with the hundreds of new colonies, she added.

"We are all beekeepers whether you actually have a hive or not," she said. "Plant the right flowers in your garden and the bees will come to you. While the LBKA doesn't want to deter people from getting involved, it must be remembered you'll be taking on a box of 60,000 stinging insects and that bees are classified as livestock and are not pets.

"We do know the benefits of keeping bees are immense and the perfect antidote to stressful city life, especially for those who are interested in reconnecting with nature."

The huge increase in new colonies in London is due in part to the number of firms establishing hives on office roofs as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments.

Ms Woods added: "Private business has a crucial role to play with the resources they have. Some linking beekeeping with social enterprise, like the Honey Club, or with political purpose, like the Neal's Yard Remedies Bee Lovely campaign to stop pesticide use are the mavericks who are getting it right.

"Through 2013, the LBKA will be reaching out to private business to help fund London-wide forage projects which we see as the way to go." Both the LBKA and BBKA run training courses for new amateur apiarists.

Reports of colony collapse disorder, by which entire hives of bees are wiped out, triggered a renewed interest in beekeeping from the middle of the last decade. But while the disorder has been rife in the United States and other parts of Europe, there is little evidence to suggest it has affected bees in Britain. Bee populations in the UK are more likely to be affected by rainy summers and deformed wing virus, transmitted by the parasitic varroa mite. The Government's National Bee Unit is also investigating how some pesticides have caused colony loss.

A Friends of the Earth survey by Mori last week showed that nine out of 10 people could not identify honey bees next to other insects. But it also showed 55 per cent were likely to put in pollinator-friendly plants.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor