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What Will Bee

Josh Learner fills us in on London urban beekeeping

Written by . Published on September 27th 2011.

What Will Bee

ALBERT Einstein once said, “If the bee disappears from the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” So it’s no wonder that many experts are ringing alarm bells. Bee colonies around the world are disappearing. England has seen, according to one report, a 54 percent drop in bee colonies over the last 20 years. A worrying truth remains too – over a third of the world’s food is produced through direct pollination by bees. The stakes, quite clearly, are very high.

“With gardens declining, neighbours wary of bees close by, space always at a premium, and ever more aspiring beekeepers taking the courses run by the London Beekeepers Association, roofs are becoming increasingly favoured sites for urban apiaries.”

But how much has London been affected by this global crisis? Well, quite a lot is the simple answer. The 150 Members of the London Beekeeper’s Association claim that they have lost between a fifth and a quarter of their bee colonies in recent years, made more disconcerting by the fact that bees have a £200m worth to the UK economy. Analysts continue to scratch their heads to the root cause of the problem – Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) remains the buzz definition for describing the disappearance of the honey bee. This still doesn’t help us much in understanding the exact explanation for the decline – mobile phones and malnutrition are but a few theories floating around amongst the experts. 

So you might say the outlook is looking unanimously bleak. But hold that thought for one minute, there remains a glimmer of hope in the form of urban beekeeping. It is self explanatory in function – and vital in purpose; hives are cropping up on rooftops, parks, garden, and city farms across London and the UK as well as New York and most recently Amsterdam. Beekeeping associations are being formed and various campaigns are active in an attempt to put the importance of the bee’s wellbeing firmly in the public conscience.


One man integral to the urban beekeeping movement in London is Luke Dixon, a beekeeper and self-confessed ‘roving bee man’. You can usually find him cycling around central London tending to his beehives at the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. He also manages rooftop beehives for a number of establishments such as the London School of Economics as well as consulting for the likes of The Lancaster London Hotel, Ted Baker and The National Magazine Company.

So why are more and more gardens and rooftops being used by London beekeepers? Luke explains, “with gardens declining, neighbours wary of bees close by, space always at a premium, and ever more aspiring beekeepers taking the courses run by the London Beekeepers Association, roofs are becoming increasingly favoured sites for urban apiaries.”


Asked about CCD and what his own personal theory behind it is, Luke puts it down to a variety of reasons including mobile phones, disease and pesticides. CCD has sparked huge interest in the dwindling bee population and the publication of A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum has cemented the bees’ plight on the ever growing list of things the world has on its plate. It is this book that recently inspired one pub landlord in Kennington to secure Luke’s expertise. Richard Bell of The Three Stags pub in North Kennington, already a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, has been working with Luke since the spring in installing a beehive on the pub roof.

“The bees are part of our plans to reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible, in part by reducing the miles that the food we serve has to travel. From private gardens to public spaces, there is plenty of plant life across the borough and having our own bees will allow The Three Stags to generate our own honey which has a distinctly local flavour.  We have placed the hive on a previously empty space on our roof, which will give the bees the best opportunity to travel across SE1 and find the sweetest flowers and trees from which to work their magic, as well as pollinating the plants they visit,” says Richard, who recently exhibited his first batch of honey for the public to come and taste.


“We have a huge green space opposite us – the Imperial War Museum and the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, both of which have plenty of trees and plants in their grounds to keep the bees busy.  Add to this the gardens of our surrounding houses, with all their flowers, plants and trees, and it is clear that there will be plenty to keep our hive occupied across the summer months.”

The Three Stags hive now has 50,000 bees and Richard has plans for expansion thanks to the management of Luke and the generous sunlight the roof receives. The Three Stags rotating menu will now include honey-orientated dishes as and when honey is extracted. 

If you want to get involved with beekeeping you can set-up a hive for as little as £500 including a Queen, some workers and a hive with beekeeping training available from London-based www.capitalgrowth.org.uk/bees. You can also take a look at Luke Dixon’s website at www.urbanbeekeeping.com, which offers a wealth of information on beekeeping. Additionally, you can help by planting bee friendly seeds in your garden, available on the capital growth website.

If there was ever a time to get involved with helping the plight of the bee, it is now. Our livelihood depends on it.

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