Insects are responsible for pollinating around 80% of Europe’s crops, which means that the current decline in bee populations presents a serious risk to biodiversity and the food chain. The recent surge in urban beekeeping isn’t just a trendy fad: it has real ecological benefits, as well as capturing people’s imaginations, and being an activity that many can enjoy participating in.
Bees in peril
During the winter of 2012-13 the British Bee Keeping society reported that a third of all honey bee colonies were lost – twice as many as in the previous year. Two years of very poor weather prevented bees from foraging. As a result a lack of pollen and nectar (food) weakened colonies, making them susceptible to disease in the winter months.
Aside from the British weather, there is debate about the potential damage from increasing use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Things are still unclear, as older pesticides may in fact be more hazardous to bees; so more research is required.
The value of pollination
Bees provide an ‘ecosystem service’. Being as ‘busy as a bee’ means they are central in pollinating plants and crops. No bees means no food on your plate! An attempt to estimate the cost of this currently free bee service has produced some scary figures. The value of crop pollination in the UK is thought to be around £430million, and £130billion worldwide.
As well as the financial impact on agriculture, wild plants depend on bees for pollination. A decline in bee numbers would have catastrophic effects for wild flora, creating a knock-on effect on UK biodiversity in general. As anyone who saw the amazing banks of wild flowers at the Olympic Park will testify, incorporating nature into large scale capital development projects enhances the site and the wellbeing of the natural environment.
What is the LSE doing, and what can I do?
LSE’s Passfield Hall was one of the first university halls of residence in the country to havea set of beehives. They were ‘welcomed’ in 2010 and our professional bee keeper Luke Dixon is looking for long term volunteers to help with their upkeep at Passfield Hall. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about them and support them. One of the
highlights of our week is feeding them every Monday with a mix of sugar and water (takes about half an hour). Bee suits are provided and guidance is available from Luke Dixon.
As well as the two hives at Passfield, a new hive was introduced on the roof of Connaught House in May 2012. This was installed by a student group supported by the LSE Sustainable Projects Fund. In 2013 this was joined by a second hive, with financial support from the LSE Annual Fund. There are currently 50,000 bees on the roof of Connaught House, and we plan to have a honey harvest in September 2013 (watch out for LSE Honey!)
The hives have drawn interest from as far away as America, with a recent visitor hoping to transfer the idea to a US campus. Last year the bees made a guest appearance at the start of term orientation event. A specially built display case (showing a cross section of the hive with live bees) went on show for students and staff to see the bees at close quarters.
Keep up with the latest LSE bee news at the LSE Bees blog.