Rise in urban beekeeping may be harming bee numbers

Increased competition for food in cities could be contributing to bee decline

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A sharp rise in the number of city dwellers keeping beehives may be doing more harm than good to bee populations, scientists have warned. 

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The number of hives in London has doubled since 2008, to a total of 3,745. A new scientific report explains that increasing the number of bees in urban areas creates added competition in places where there are already relatively few feeding plants.

Experts are divided on what is causing honeybee population decline, but many have suggested that a lack of suitable habitats may be a large factor. Last year’s bad weather caused dramatic losses of 33.8% of Britain’s honeybee colonies over the winter.

Professor Francis Ratnieks and Dr Karin Alton, from the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, have urged people in cities to plant more flowers rather than adding new hives.

“Marjoram, borage, lavender, catmint, and Bowle’s Mauve all attract bees, are easy to grow, and are beautiful as well,” said Prof Ratnieks.

London now has ten hives per square km, ten times higher than across the whole of England. According to Dr Alton, each new hive in London would need 1 hectare (0.01 square km) of the herb borage to support its honeybees.

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Tim Lovett from the British Beekeepers Association advised bee enthusiasts in the city to “consider the availability of forage, the presence of other hives nearby, getting adequate competence of beekeeping… and above all: do it slowly.”