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24 June 2010

Can cities save our bees?

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The alarming decline in the number of bees is well known, but their salvation could come from an unlikely area

For the past 10 years, colonies of bees have decreased at an alarming rate. A phenomenon called colony collapse disorder has been killing them off en masse, and beekeepers have been quick to alert the public about their high hive mortality. The bees are threatened by new and intensive farming practices (heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilisers, plant growth regulators, and methods such as mono-cropping and organised irrigation), climate change and the arrival of the Asian hornet. In recent years, the mortality rate of bees has quadrupled.

The disappearance of bees endangers the beekeeping profession and threatens agriculture and the food supply (according to French scientists from INRA and the CNRS, 35% of world production of fruits, vegetables and oilseeds depends on the activities of the pollinators). Environmentalists and beekeepers, using data gathered by many toxological studies, are fighting against big chemical companies in order to prohibit the use of some products that can be lethal for bees, such as Gaucho and Regent TS.

But surprisingly, the industry has discovered that bees kept in urban areas are healthier and produce better honey. In rural areas, bees are victims of the disappearance of wild flowers, caused by excessive monoculture and the misuse of pesticides. As a consequence, it is more and more common to see wild swarms finding refuge in cities, and beekeepers are regularly deciding to move their hives to city gardens and parks. Fewer pesticides and a greater biodiversity are helping bee colonies to thrive here.

Today, beehives are quietly buzzing in cities all over the globe: Chicago, Toronto, Paris, London and New York are cities where thousands of different species of plants are blossoming in the gardens and parks. Honey produced in the cities is of a better quality than that from the countryside. The cities are becoming a haven; they do not protect the bees from everything, but they offer them a break.

(The Guardian)

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