Are There Too Many Bees In London?

It’s been a tough year for bees in the UK.

The rain, wind and cold have discouraged them from foraging for pollen and nectar. They’ve been forced to rely on stores and/or artificial feeding by their beekeepers.

The National Bee Unit (NBU) recently issued a starvation risk and urged UK beekeepers to check their colonies for food supplies:

With the continued spell of poor weather in many areas of the UK, reports are coming in from Regional and Seasonal Bee Inspectors of starving bee colonies, where the beekeeper is not aware that the bees are severely short of food, or the colony(s) have already starved to death.

Perhaps it was inevitable the question would emerge — Are there too many urban beekeepers in London?

Angela Woods, Secretary of the London Beekeepers Association, thinks so.

In a June 15 interview with the Evening Standard, she stated:

 There is simply not enough forage to go around.

A square kilometre of forage is enough to sustain five colonies. If you take a square kilometre around the Royal Festival Hall, there are now 156 registered colonies while there are likely to be many more which are unregistered.

It has almost got out of control in London. It has become fashionable to have bees, partly I think because of the recession. People are going back to nature and there is a celebrity aspect to it as well.

Ms. Woods says there is also concern about a growing trend for businesses to site hives on high rooftops.  She said ideally hives should not be higher than a two-storey house, otherwise bees spend too much energy flying up and down to the hives.

This argument isn’t new. In his recent book, The Urban Beekeeper, professional beekeeper Steve Benbow reports encountering these concerns when he moved his bees from Shropshire to London in 2009:

The increase in urban beekeeping over recent years has forced local bee associations to stir themselves. After an initial panic over the amount of available forage, I’m glad to see they now appear to be working together with local councils to ensure that there is a wider range of nectar-yielding plants in the city.

Unfortunately, it appears the panic is back.

What’s the answer?  There’s no question that bees are starving this year, but are urban beekeepers to blame?

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Are There Too Many Bees In London?

  1. so interesting… thank you for sharing:)

  2. I never would have thought about this, it’s very interesting to read about…

  3. Emily Heath says:

    Thanks Deborah, will be interesting to see what people think. As well as the forage limits, there’s the potential problem that some beekeepers here are against treating for varroa. In densely populated areas this inevitably helps spread mites to other hives, through worker drifting and drone visits.

  4. Jude Earl says:

    I commented on the Evening Standard Article as follows :
    Bees fly up to a radius of 5 kilometres from a hive to forage …so even if all 156 hives were on the roof of the Festival Hall they would have 78.5 sq km to forage in. Enough for 390 hives.
    And it depends on what forage is in the area …London has many trees that provide very good forage. There may be too many hives in Central London …but I don’t think there are enough facts to judge. And it’s impossible to generalise about Greater London …which covers over 1500 sq km


    • Thanks for commenting. This is a very complex issue!!

    • geordy Mark says:

      Actually that is incorrect – bees will not pass large open bodies of water such as the Thames so colonies along the south bank such as festival hall will have greatly reduced foraging. University of Sussex Laboratory for apiculture and social insects research has shown that Honey bees will fly 6 ,7 even 8 kilometers to find food when desperate, but they prefer to forage closer to home as travelling further afield there comes a point when the distance traveled outweighs the benefits of forage brought back. This is basic optimal foraging behavior demonstrated by most animals.
      Anyone keeping colonies along the Thames will be requiring their bees to travel much further and cover more ground to find the food they need due to bees reluctance to cross large bodies of water.

  5. katiepede says:

    I think it should become even more fashionable to grow bee friendly plants in urban environment to try and better sustain those already established. I also think that it should be easier for the public to see hives and appreciate them, as personally I have always wanted to keep bees, but I think if I could get involved in a community bee project then it would mean fewer hives in total, but more awareness? Just a thought 🙂 xx

  6. engraversue says:

    This is fascinating. I live in rural Somerset but do all I can to encourage bees. Waiting now to see if my leafcutter bee babies are going to hatch soon. The bees were fascinating to watch building cells in my bee hotel last summer and I tried to keep them cosy over winter.
    Spotted the link to your blog on katiepede’s blog (she’s my daughter).

  7. Rachel says:

    Reblogged this on ecologyescapades and commented:
    After meeting up with Deborah, the writer of Romancing the Bee, I have started to look more into bee conservation and the problems they are encountering this year. I don’t really know that much about bees to be honest, which is a bit slack on my part as they are a fundamental part of our world.
    Reading through The British Beekeepers Associations’ website should be a good start!

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