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?