September 21, 2009

Urban Beekeeping Becoming Popular In Britain

In an attempt to counteract the disappearance of bees, Britons are beginning to keep their own bees in small urban gardens.

Beekeeping is an age-old practice that is now making a come-back in Britain, as people become increasingly worried about the future of food and a strong desire to make a difference in the environment.

Only 6 months ago, 43 year-old Jon Harris was just learning how to keep bees, now he has a successful hive in his small back garden in Brixton, south London.

"That honeycomb is just amazing," he happily told AFP.

His hive produced 45 pounds of honey during its first summer, "which goes to prove there is something around here they love," he said.

People may be surprised to learn that bees do not require pastures full of wild flowers in order to find nectar. They are actually quite satisfied with the hedgerows and bushes alongside the railway line behind Harris' house, but they do not mind traveling up to four miles in search of food.

After Harris was no longer needed at his job as a retail buying manager in March, he decided to spend his extra time trying his hand at beekeeping, which is something he had always wanted to do, but did not think his garden was big enough to sustain a hive.

But after taking a one-day course on urban beekeeping, he was set straight.

"As long as you have enough room for a hive, you've got enough room to keep bees," he told AFP.

"It is one of those hobbies that gets you outdoors and it actually gets you involved with something natural as opposed to doing a pottery course or a photography course."

Though bees thrive in this one London garden, the rest of the world is not having such luck.

This weekend, experts got together in the southern French city of Montpellier for the 41st world apiculture conference, called Apimondia. There they tried to figure out why parts of North America and Europe, and now also Asia, have been plagued with Colony Collapse Disorder, which is known to destroy up to 90 percent of a bee community.

Chair of education at the British Beekeepers' Association Chris Deaves said there is likely a combination of factors involved.

"The decline is real," he told AFP. "In the UK last winter we lost about 21 percent (of the population).

"The winter before it was about 25 to 30 percent. It is probable that the cause is multi-layered," he added.

There are some experts pointing to the parasitic varroa mite as the cause, but pesticides, viruses and industrialized farming are also believed to play a part in attacking and weakening bee communities.

"It is rather like a human being, when you are rundown you may start to exhibit the effects of the flu," Deaves says.

But Deaves expressed his relief when talking about the new beekeeping movement in Britain.

"The interest in beekeeping is growing very, very rapidly," he said. "Perhaps it is because of the feeling that everybody has to do something to make the planet a better place to live," especially in polluted cities.

"You can't keep cows or sheep (in a city), but you can keep bees," Deaves said.

"People are also concerned about having the capability to create food in the UK," and people are concerned about where there food is originating, and how many miles it travels to get to their dinner tables.

In Brixton, on the other hand, Jon Harris is enjoying honey that only traveled a few steps to his kitchen.

"It has got a very minty, eucalyptus-y taste to it when it comes out. That dies back a bit. But it is probably the best honey I have tasted."