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.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 6 Supply Teacher Position a...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Early Years and Foundation stage EYFS Teachers

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?