bees in the city

The UNAF (The Union of French Apiarists) is getting the word out about their project “The Bee, sentinel of the Environment” which promotes urban beekeeping, or putting hives on rooftops in cities all over France...and beyond. So far, the results have been impressive. Sounds nice, right? But what’s really disturbing is their reason for doing this: to save the ever-dwindling bee population, decimated by their lives in the country where they buzz about in bliss amongst all kinds of pesticides.

Populations of bees are dropping worldwide. Because farmlands are often heavily sprayed with pesticides and herbicides and dominated by monocultures, bees often find life in the city to be easier than that in the bucolic countryside. They happily set up house in city parks, balconies, gardens, vacant lots, and rooftop hives, where higher temperatures and a diverse urban plant life translates into a longer period of pollination from a wider variety of flowers, without the exposure to the toxicity of pesticides and other crop treatments.

These little hymenopterans (ok, I had to look it up to…the order of insects which includes sawflies, wasps, bees and ants) possess a filter which protects them better from urban pollution than from the neurotoxins in pesticides. (Bet a lot of city dwellers would like to get a hold of this filter for themselves...). Bees roam within a radius of three kilometers from the hive, and if they encounter pesticides on their wanderings, they die. And before they die the neurotoxins cause disorientation which prevents the poor bee from finding its home, causing some regions to “lose” up to 45% of their bees.

Interestingly enough, the beehive which produces the most honey in Paris is that on the roof of the Opera of Paris, which yields 100 kilos of honey, conveniently sold to tourists and bee lovers at quite a premium. Hives placed in the city of Nantes produced far more honey that those in the countryside 30 km away. City bees have longer, happier lives than their country relatives: the mortality rate of city bees was 6% compared to 33% for the rural bees studied. And apparently their honey is believed by many to be even tastier!

By 2009 the UNAF hopes to convince all the countries in the European Union to join this effort.

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