A Holland Park estate agent might tell you that if you choose to buy one of the houses for sale Kensington, the close proximity to Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace will land you in one of London’s most picturesque districts. It seems the local honey bees agree – while you’d expect the hard-working insects to be more at home in the natural surroundings of the UK countryside, British honey bees are flourishing in urban areas.
In the countryside there are plenty of fields with a variety of plants and flowers that the honeybees visit. However, because a number of these fields also contain crops for harvesting which have been sprayed with pesticides, the quality and yield of the pollen is often lower than required. Pesticieds can also weaken the honey bees, making them vulnerable to diseases and disrupting the delicate systems that the honey bees use to communicate and share the location of pollen with the hive.
In contrast, honey bee hives in London towns like Birmingham and Kensington collect pollen from a variety of plants such as poppies, roses and eucalyptus. This results in higher quality honey and happier, healthier bees. A honey bee hive kept by the Duke of Gloucester at Kensington Palace is a good example, as are honey bee keeping projects at UK universities.
Limited honey bee pollen resources and the use of chemicals in agriculture have been blamed for the drastic decline in the UK honey bee population in recent years. Climate change is also considered a factor, with honey bees dropping in numbers by an alarming 50% in the past 2 decades.
Londoners keeping honey bees in towns and cities emphasise the important role that the insects play in the environment and agriculture – the value of pollination by honey bees is worth millions of dollars in crops. The British Beekeepers Association has started encouraging UK residents in urban areas to start planting wildlife-friendly flowers in their gardens, or consider keeping a honey bee hive themselves. If responsible honey bee keeping becomes a more common activity, it could mean a boost to the population of these useful and fascinating insects.