Urban beekeeping has been touted as a way to boost pollination and improve sustainability, food security and biodiversity in cities. Many people and businesses who’ve added beehives to their backyards and rooftops (including CBC) say they’re doing it to help fight declines in bee populations.
But researchers say urban beekeepers are likely doing just the opposite when it comes to wild bee species.
The only bee species kept in beehives is the European honeybee, which is “a non-native species that’s essentially livestock managed by people,” said Charlotte De Keyzer, a Toronto bee researcher and founder of the site bee-washing.com, which fights misinformation about bees.
“So it’s a bit like saying that you’re going to save the birds of Canada by keeping chickens in your backyard.”
Honeybees, which are kept in hives of 50,000 to 100,000, roam across the city and compete with native species for food — nectar and pollen from flowers. A recent study in Paris found fewer wild bees in areas with more beehives, and on average, studies have been finding managed honeybees have a negative impact on wild species.
Gail MacInnis is a postdoctoral researcher at McGill University who is studying how beehives are affecting more than 170 wild bee species that live in Montreal, where about 2,000 honeybee hives have been added since 2013.
She noted that most wild bees are solitary and some are only active and able to collect food for two or three weeks of the year, so competition from a hive of 100,000 honeybees can be a huge problem.
She’s trying to figure out how many beehives Montreal can sustainably support without harming wild bees, and how many flowers are needed to feed them.
MacInnis and De Keyzer acknowledge that honeybees are important for agricultural pollination, and there are some benefits of urban beekeeping, too, such as honey production and providing an income for beekeepers.
But they think governments should restrict urban hives to protect wild bees, as Ontario has done.
So, if you want to boost wild pollinator populations and improve sustainability and biodiversity, what should you do?
- Do less work in your garden, De Keyzer says. “You can mow less, which increases the flowers in that area. You can apply less pesticides.” Less mulching and tidying in your garden also increases the nesting areas available to wild bees, which often nest in the ground, dead wood or the hollow stems of some plants.
- Plant flowers, MacInnis suggests.
- Advocate for stronger urban bylaws and restrictions about where beehives can be kept, De Keyzer says.
MacInnis agrees that municipal governments can have a greater impact than individuals when it comes to protecting wild bees. Both researchers point to Toronto, which is covered by Ontario restrictions that make beekeeping illegal in much of the city, and has itself moved toward more bee-friendly landscaping with native plants and offers grants to community groups for pollinator flower gardens.
According to the City of Toronto, that’s had other benefits, too — the native plants are more resistant to pests and don’t require much maintenance, which lowers costs.
— Emily Chung
The Maison Radio-Canada in Montreal and the Toronto CBC Broadcasting Centre now have four hives, containing up to 20,000 honeybees, installed on the roofs.
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It’s a joint initiative with the urban beekeeping company Alvéole Inc.
“Each hive is composed of a queen bee and thousands of worker bees and drones. By the end of the summer, we anticipate that there will be 50,000 bees in each hive,” said Daniel Langevin, CBC/Radio-Canada’s manager of health, safety and environment for real estate services.
Athena Trastelis, who leads environment-related activities at CBC, said bringing the bees to the buildings is “doing our part” to fight the decline of the bee population.
Climate change, pesticides and habitat loss have all contributed to the decline in recent years.
Bee-washing is a term that was first coined by researchers at York University in Toronto, Canada. Bee-washing is a type of greenwashing where companies mislead consumers to buy products or subscribe to services under the pretence of helping bees. Bee-washing is also used to improve the public image of companies and has become an increasingly common marketing spin. Spotting bee-washing requires some knowledge about the differences between managed bees and wild bees, and the factors driving bee declines.
bee-washing.com serves two purposes: 1) to expose companies that fool consumers through “bee-friendly” marketing, incentives, or activities and 2) to increase awareness of North American wild bee biology, diversity, and conservation by sharing fun facts and ultra adorable GIFs (AKA the good kind of bee-washing)!
Bees are cute and highly marketable, but that doesn’t mean the marketing claims are accurate The problem.
False information about bees and their declines are readily shared in today’s click-bait culture. On top of that, many companies benefit from this misinformation to sell products aimed at “saving the bees”. Ironically, doing less is often the best way to conserve bees (e.g., mowing less, tidying your garden less, applying less pesticides, etc.).
Charlotte de Keyzer, a University of Toronto PhD Candidate, created this website to tackle the rampant and sometimes harmful bee-washing used by companies. She believes it is important to not only hold companies accountable for the misinformation they (willingly) spread, but also to educate the public on these matters.
of bees do not make honey
bee species are native to North America.
of North American bumble bees are at risk of extinction.
The goal: a well-researched blog where bee-washing is both shamed and adored
Some tips for bee-washing beginners: look for declarations of catastrophic bee declines, the #savethebees tag, claims of a product’s “bee-friendliness”, and the likely (over)use of bee puns 😉 If you find an example of bee-washing that hasn’t been shared on the website yet, please get in touch!
I’m also always looking for that good bee-washing content (especially in GIF format). I will credit you!
And of course, feedback is welcomed. There is subtlety in some of the arguments. Diverse perspectives and constructive criticisms on how to improve our communications are much appreciated.
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