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Page last updated at 14:04 GMT, Wednesday, 26 May 2010 15:04 UK
A bird's-eye view for city bees
Rosemary Robbins with her beehive
Rosemary Robbins with her beloved bees on the roof of the flats

From the heady heights of their hive, a colony of city bees enjoys one of best views of prime real estate.

Their home is on top of Peterborough's tallest building - a 12-storey block of flats.

Rosemary Robbins, caretaker of the flats, is a keen beekeeper and thought that the rooftop hive would encourage more bees to be urban-dwellers.

She said: "Bees are absolutely central to our health, welfare, existence and future on this planet."

However, it's not just the bees that Rosemary is passionate about.

With her help, residents of the Cumberland House flats have turned an area of scrubland into gardens of their own.

"When you live in flats you're completely separate from nature," said Rosemary.

"I was lucky enough to be able to offer them a garden bed area where they could dig, prepare and grow what they like.

"I was thrilled to bits at the response. Some of them have taken to it like a duck to water, and I wanted to encourage them to grow plants that would help the bees with their forage and their nectar sources.

"It's my attempt to get more bees into the local area and get some nice forage from urban flowers."

Heady heights

The high-rise hive that Rosemary installed has a pretty gabled roof and is larger than standard versions.

In beekeeping terms it is called a brood-and-a-half, which means that it has extra egg-laying capacity for the queen.

The welfare of her bees is very important to Rosemary, which is why she prefers to call herself a bee guardian, rather than a beekeeper.

"Yes, we do keep bees," she explained. "But if they wanted to abscond, they would - and do.

"So, I don't keep them. I like to think that I'm working with the bees for mutual benefit."

There are certain practices Rosemary doesn't subscribe to, including clipping the queen's wings, as she prefers to give the bees the opportunity to swarm and move on if that's what they want to do.

"The bees must be allowed - as far as possible - their natural inclination, which is why I give them a much larger brood space in the hive, so the queen can lay her eggs where she wants."

She has also developed a unique way of checking on her bees' activity - by using a stethoscope to listen to what they are getting up to!

"My doctor donated his stethoscope to me because I said I'd love to be able to listen to the bees without having to open the hive.

"By the tone, you can detect the overall mood of the bees.

"I also used it on my own hives, coming out of the winter period, because I was worried about the state of the colony after the really bad weather and it was too early to open it.

"I use it just to make sure someone's at home," she chuckled.

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