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Is Your Urban Beehive Actually Bad For Bees?

It’s fine when you put up a hive on your roof, but when all your friends do, too–bad things start happening to our pollinating friends.

Is Your Urban Beehive Actually Bad For Bees?
[Flickr user: Vancouver Convention]

There are reasons to cultivate your own honey bees at home–like cheap access to fresh honey with a minimal carbon footprint. But hobbyist beekeepers who think they’re helping revive a bee population decimated by colony collapse disorder should know that they’re actually not helping, and are maybe even bringing more bees to an area than its food supply can support, particularly in urban areas with less flora.

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That’s the message of a new article published in The Biologist, the publication of the U.K. Society of Biology, which says that while urban beekeeping has never been more popular, “instead of providing a helpful solution to the reduced population of honey bees, more city hives could be doing more harm than good.”

That’s because too many beehives in an area can mean not enough food for all the bees. Scientist Francis Ratnieks and Karin Alton, who authored the article, told the BBC that environmentalist should tend flowers, not hives, to spur growth of the bee population.

Interestingly, adding urban hives has been seen by environmentalists as a remedy to the problem of declining bee populations. In London, where researchers focused their study, the number of hives has doubled over the past 5 years to 3,745. “Rooftop hives in the city have become increasingly popular as symbols of a company’s ‘green’ credentials or as team-building exercises,” reports the BBC.

In addition to the problem of overpopulation, Ratnieks said that “A high density of colonies kept by novice beekeepers may also provide conditions under which the harmful contagious honeybee disease American foulbrood can spread. This disease is rare in Britain, but epidemics can break out … When a hive is infected with AFB it must be burned.”

For an urban agriculturist that’s reading, it’s probably a bit alarmist to suggest giving up one’s beloved hive. Scientists still haven’t settled on an adequate explanation for why bees are disappearing. Perhaps the best solution is a compromise: keep your hive for the honey, and grow some extra flowers while you’re at it to increase the bees’ supply.

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, NYMag.com, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.

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