Page last updated at 10:29 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 11:29 UK

Urban dwellers 'should keep bees'


Johannes Paul explains how to keep bees in urban areas

People living in urban areas are being encouraged to consider keeping bees in gardens, on roofs or on balconies to help reverse population decline.

Conservation watchdog Natural England wants more homeowners to install hives and grow insect-friendly plants.

Nearly all the UK's 250 species of bee are in decline. Honeybee numbers have fallen by 10-15% in the last two years.

Experts say sustaining bee populations is essential to ensuring the survival of Britain's plants and crops.

Natural England wants to see more UK bee colonies, which would make the insects more resistant to their biggest killers - disease and pests, such as the varroa mite.

'Not wildlife deserts'

The organisation's chief scientist, Tom Tew, said urban areas could play a crucial part in encouraging bees and a new easy-to-use beehive, called a beehaus, could help more people become apiarists.

"There's no reason why our towns and cities should exist as wildlife deserts - wildlife can thrive when we design our urban areas with nature in mind and the 'beehaus' is a great example of how easy it is for anyone to bring the natural world closer to their doorstep," he said.

New urban 'beehaus'
The new beehaus is intended for use in towns and cities

Bees played a crucial role in pollinating plants and crops, he explained, and Britons needed "to recognise that, if we want plants to flourish, we need healthy populations of insects to sustain them".

Some £100m to £200m worth of British commercial crops are estimated to benefit from bee pollination every year. Honey itself is also thought to be worth between £10m and £30m to the UK economy.

The first of the newly-designed urban beehives is due to be installed on the roof of Natural England's central London offices, but Dr Tew said the bees would not be coming into contact with pedestrians on pavements because they flew about five metres off the ground.

This is an excellent idea. Bees are extremely important
Andy T, Devon

Omlet, the firm that fuelled interest in urban chicken-rearing with its modern plastic "Eglu" coop, designed the new beehaus and said bee-keeping did not require acres of land.

"Those in the know have been keeping bees in towns for a long time. Keeping a hive doesn't take much space, so you can even keep them on balconies, roof tops and obviously gardens," said Johannes Paul, from the company.

Natural England urged aspiring apiarists to think carefully about the commitment required when keeping bees, and encouraged people to seek professional advice or visit their local beekeeping association before making a decision.

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