“Urban beekeeping becoming an ‘unsustainable’ hobby that is doing more harm than good, scientists say”. These are quotations from two articles, one from Kew Gardens and the other from The Natural History Museum. I think that these statements will be read with surprise by many people, not least by beekeepers, especially as they come from notable champions of natural history. I asked Andrew Halstead to comment on them. When you have accessed the article through the links and read them, I suggest that you read Andrew’s comments below, and I think that you will have your faith in our beekeeping restored. Perhaps you will let us all have any thoughts of your own on the content of the articles.

https://inews.co.uk/news/environment/urban-beekeeping-unsustainable-hobby-royal-botanic-gardens-kew- latest-670304


Andrew’s comments:

There may be competition for nectar and pollen between honeybees and other bee species in intensively built up areas, such as city centres. However, these are not the places where I would expect the rarer species of bees to be found. Most cities and larger towns can do more to support the needs of all bees by changing the ways in which highways and public open spaces are managed. Less frequent mowing of grass areas will give plants the chance to flower. Planting schemes should take note of the plentiful advice that is available regarding plants that benefit pollinating insects. Geraniums and petunias look pretty but they are ignored by bees.

A continuation of the above topic was started by Marion in the following email to Andrew:

When I drive along roads like Seven Hills Road in late summer and see the sweet chestnut trees laden with their inflorescences, each of which may be comprised of a hundred or so flowers, I seriously wonder if there really is a shortage of flowers for bees, as stated in one of the articles Claire sent:

“Beekeeping in cities is now becoming so popular it’s actually becoming unsustainable,” warned Professor Phil Stevenson, a scientist at Kew Gardens. “There’s insufficient nectar and pollen available to support the numbers of hives, let alone the wild species we have… honeybees are now outcompeting these other species for food they all need.”

My question is, “Have you ever seen an article on this subject with details of the actual flowers, not just the bees, i.e. evidence of inadequate numbers of flowers for bees (all types) to visit, or do you think, as I do, that it’s an assumption based on bee decline, which IS measurable?” Then a related question: “How many flowers does a bee need?” Has anyone tried to estimate that, from actual observations? It seems to me that in this, as in many other aspects of beekeeping, Person 1 suggests a possible explanation for an observation. Person 2 quotes Person 1, then Person 3 repeats Person 2, without saying this started only as a suggestion by Person 1, then Person 4 states the explanation as a fact, which gets into the general mass of ‘received wisdom’, then into the literature, which is seldom questioned (the written word is considered to be more accurate than the spoken word) – or am I being cynical?

Andrew’s reply:

The University of Bristol has done some research on pollinating insects in urban areas, see


Marion Cooper

Their research indicates that urban areas can be flower-rich oases compared to the wider countryside around towns.

Andrew Halstead

Thanks to Claire Balla for sending the two articles, to Marion for adding to the discussion, and to Andrew for his helpful comments.

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