Thursday, January 21, 2016

A bear and a Queen are part of the buzz about bees in the UK

The plight of pollinators across the pond

Last March I wrote an article for The Christian Science Monitor talking about the alarming decline of honeybees in America.

Give bees a chance” discussed factors behind the disappearance of pollinators, and outlined things gardeners could do help struggling bee populations.

Recently, I visited England and learned that bees there are also in danger. 

Unlike in the US, Colony Collapse Disorder is not an issue in Europe. However, the varroa mite, viruses, pesticides and industrial farming are all believed to have contributed to the loss of more than 50% of the bee population over the past two decades.

There are also fewer grassland habitats and wildflowers in the countryside thanks to sprawl and new agricultural practices. As a result, two UK honeybee species are now extinct.

The buzz about shrinking numbers of honeybees has mobilized concerned citizens and help is coming from all manner of honey lovers including Winnie-the-Pooh and Queen Elizabeth II.

Visit to download kid and bee friendly activities
The British Beekeeping Association recently launched a new campaign (Friends of the Honeybee) encouraging children to lend pollinators a hand. Pooh’s 10 simple steps include planting a flowering tree and building bee habitats.

Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official London home. The Changing of the Guard in front of the palace has long been a major tourist attraction, but visitors seldom see the 39-acre walled oasis behind the 775-room royal residence. I was fortunate enough to be included in a walking tour last month.

The Queen’s Garden is aptly named because Her Majesty oversees all landscaping decisions. The garden features 6,500 plants, 420 trees and 35 types of mulberry. The various garden “rooms” including a formal rose garden, are connected by 2 ½ miles of gravel paths. The original landscape design is credited to Capability Brown.

80 varieties of birds have been spotted there, along with, bats, foxes, hedgehogs and 20 tawny owls.

In 2009, two Italian honeybee hives were placed in the garden as requested by the Queen. Two more hives of these “placid” bees were added the following year. An expert from the London Beekeepers Association tends to the 200,000 bees, along with a specially trained royal gardener.

Busy bees: the Royal Hives are on an island in the Queen's garden. (Courtesy Daily Mail)
All four hives are located on a man made island in the middle of the garden’s 3.5-acre lake. The island is virtually untouched and is part of the Long Grass Policy, where over 350 varieties of wildflowers are allowed to go through a full cycle of growth, including seed spreading, before grasses are cut in late August. The plants reproduce and sustain themselves without help from the eight gardeners on staff.

Bees can also visit and harvest nectar from 600 other plants in the main garden where something is always in bloom. These busy bees produced 420 jars of honey last year. The Queen is said to enjoy a bit of royal honey on her breakfast tray.

The Long Grass Policy is just one of the initiatives employed at Buckingham Palace to keep the Queen’s gardens as “green” as possible. According to Gardens Manager Mark Lane, 99% of green waste is recycled on site. Grass cuttings, twigs, branches and soiled straw from the royal stables are shredded and turned until rotted sufficiently to be used as mulch. Even tree stumps are allowed to rot naturally.
F&M's hives are painted in their traditional duck egg blue.
Not far from Buckingham Palace, the legendary Fortnum & Mason, purveyors of fine foods, has added four 6-foot tall beehives to the roof of their flagship Piccadilly store. Shoppers can watch the “gentle” Welsh Black bees on the bee-cam. There is a waiting list for the honey.

Surprisingly, beehives were on the roof of the Macdonald Hotel where we stayed in Windsor. Visitors can take a peek at the hives in action through glass windows overlooking the roof. Each window is inscribed with a bee fact such as  “Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.”

You can even name and adopt a bee for £1 through Plan Bee, the firm that cares for the bees at the hotel.

Beehives are also located on a barge moored to Tower Bridge, and on the roof of the National Portrait Gallery. And more people are inquiring about beekeeping every day.

It appears things are beginning to look a lot sweeter for honeybees in Britain.
Beehive at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London


Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, due to various publicised efforts and schemes from TV programmes through Garden Centre RHS initiatives, there is a growing awareness of bee decline and what can be done to help stop and reverse it domestically. For our own garden, I am hoping that one day, we'll be able to have a little hive of sorts and the bees will be able to feed from all manner of flowering plants at any time of year. It's quite a long way off but could be one of the "milestones" that marks the garden as almost filled/complete. At the moment we have places for solitary bees to stay for a while in the warm and dry.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, something I talked about in the earlier Monitor article was leaving out dishes of water for the bees. I read how important it was to put sticks over the dish or birdbath so the bees can sit on them to take a sip. Sadly we learned this the hard way when we found a bee drowned in the watering can :( Will look forward to when you have your hive.In the meantime, I know all manner of bees will love your flowers!

Les said...

I love that The Queen has opened her garden to other queens.

Lynn Hunt said...

And I love that the Queen is so green, Les!

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