Ain’t Miss Bee Havens

“Two bees or not two bees, that is the question.”

~ Apologies to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

One of the most important species for continued human and animal survival upon the Earth is a small, flying insect that buzzes around our heads and can sting us painfully — the bee. Conservation Specialist Stefanie Steele notes, “Our society’s agricultural demand has developed to rely on European honey bees, but small urban agriculture areas offer a great opportunity to learn about other beneficial insects that are often overlooked. These beneficial insects include native solitary bees, who are often smaller than honey bees and are particularly efficient pollinators of our native plants.”

Brooklyn Botanic Garden Director Janet Marinelli observes, “Not every species is amenable to city life, but from Berlin to Melbourne to Berkeley, researchers are finding that flower patches — in parks, residential properties, community vegetable plots, and vacant lots — support surprisingly healthy populations of bees, the most important pollinators in agricultural and most natural areas.”

This recognition has accompanied the identification of bee and pollinator declines and the dangers that they face. Journalist Deborah Lev-Tov reports, “Globally, 1 in 6 bee species is regionally extinct and 40 percent are endangered because of pollution and habitat loss, among other causes. The decline of bees has a ripple effect since they are important pollinators that contribute to food security.”

As a result, many groups, individuals and governments are implementing measures to protect the pollinators and bridge the gap between urban and rural habitats. Steele adds, “Detroit area community members have since been working with the city and legislature to revitalize many vacant lots as community gardens and small urban farm sites. These sites grow crops to feed the local community, but there are other driving factors of urban agriculture: community development and job growth; food sovereignty, production, and nutrition; beautification and reduction of blight; sustainability; education and skills training; biodiversity conservation through corridors and islands of habitat; and combating heat islands.”

Marinelli observes, “Interestingly, bees are flourishing, particularly in vacant lots in so-called shrinking cites like Detroit and Cleveland. Hall attributes this to the undisturbed “wildness” of these seemingly forlorn places … One big advantage of urban areas is that people, like bees, are attracted to flowers — ‘the key driver of bee diversity and abundance,’ per Damon Hall, biologist at Saint Louis University.  Although the native vegetation has been all but wiped out, the diverse human populations in cities plant flowers from around the globe.” 

Lev-Tov notes, “As hotels around the world prioritize sustainability, an increasing number are installing beehives … urban hotels provide the honeybees with room to roam for nectar and the resulting honey is used in its dining venues as well as sold in its online shop.”

The beekeeper at the Mercer Hotel in New York City defines their mission: “to invest in the growing movement to protect, preserve and nurture the fragile bee population in Manhattan.”

Marinelli quotes the Pollinator Partnership’s Wojcik, “… the sheer per capita conservation potential of cities is tremendous. If everyone in a city of a million people planted even one pollinator-friendly plant, there would be a million more foraging opportunities for bees.”

Go ahead, be a friend to a bee.

Additional information:

Deborah Lev-Tov, Hotels as Bee Havens, January 22, 2023, The New York Times Style Magazine

Janet Marinelli, Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Rebuild Declining Bee Populations, November 9, 2017, YaleEnvironment360

Stefanie Steele, Investing in Pollinator Conservation Through Urban Agriculture, June 20, 2022, The Xerxes Society

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