Urban Beekeeper

Urban Beekeeper

One thought on “Too many honey bees; too many beekeepers?

  1. bearing in mind my status as a longstanding beekeeper, you may be surprised that my response is “of course Honey bees compete with other pollinators”. Our gals are highly organised, available in large colonies, and because we keep them in artificial nest boxes, colonies are at far greater density than they would be in nature.

    I m not aware of any academic research, peer reviewed, but dont have access to research papers or for instnace the Journal for Apicultural REsearch to check this; there are 5 things that Im aware of that confirm it

    when I was in West London I was secretary of the Selborne Society a charity that owns and managed Perivale Wood. we commissioned surveys from appropriately skilled and qualified contractors, and one by John Dobson was on the bee population of the Reserve; I m sure you could get the report from the Society, but there was correspondence that thanks to gmail, I can quote as follows, I ve highlight the most relevant bit:

    “In hindsight many entomologists are reporting that the 2017 season started promisingly in the spring but nosedived in the summer. This reflects my findings at Perivale last year when 75% of the specimens were collected during my first two visits.

    I think it is worth mentioning however (and this will not be in my report) that on 1 August 2017 I carried out a general entomological survey of a narrow strip of nondescript grassland habitat on the edge of a sports field in London. In largely overcast and often gusty conditions I captured 17 specimens of bees and wasps in around 2 hours, which I have identified as belonging to 15 species. On 7 August 2017 I spent several hours specifically hunting bees and wasps in the far higher quality (and generally sheltered) habitats at Perivale Wood and came away with only 8 specimens (to be identified).

    That is just one piece of circumstantial evidence, but it tends to suggest to me that the widely acknowledged poor insect summer and autumn may not in itself be sufficient to explain the very poor catch from Perivale Wood during this period.

    Another point which has been made to me (by Mike Edwards of BWARS) is that honeybees are likely to be principally collecting nectar, whilst solitary bees are more often collecting pollen, and so are not generally in direct competition in that respect. However what I witnessed on multiple occasions on the bramble flowers at Perivale Wood was physical competition, where honeybees, with their high numbers, level of activity and individual bulk, were crowding out attempts by smaller solitary bees to land on the flowers.

    It is also clear that the lack of suitable nectar and pollen sources and lack of suitable bare soil nesting areas are likely to be very significant contributory factors. In the report I will compare the number of fossorial (ground nesting) species with the number of those nesting in holes in timber such as tree trunks.

    I would also have to look to these factors to explain the very low number of wasps recorded. Collectively solitary wasps tend to occur at a significantly lower population density than solitary bees. In addition and unlike bees most do not tend to sit conveniently on flowers awaiting capture, but are more elusive in their habits. Thus although one would expect to record fewer wasps than bees, the result from Perivale Wood are exceptionally poor. Solitary wasps tend to be on the wing later or much later in the year than many solitary bees. The summer downturn in the season is therefore likely to have played a part these poor results.

    In summary there is clearly a case to answer regarding the very significant competition for flowers by honeybees, although this is based on the observational evidence of one person. In addition to the observed very high levels of flower occupancy by honeybees and the poor insect seasons during the summer and autumn of 2017, two other factors have also been identified (nectar/pollen source diversity and bare earth nesting habitat) which are likely to have a major influence on the site’s populations of solitary bees.

    Regardless of the relative influence of those factors, I believe in principle that honey bee hives do not belong on nature reserves. Firstly, they are a domestic crop involving managed domestic animals, and are not a nature conservation activity. Secondly there are very many invertebrates apart from solitary bees which are dependent to some degree on nectar or pollen. In addition the pollination of wild flowers is more complex than just flower visiting, and is best achieved by a diversity of insect fauna rather than by a virtual monocrop.”

    as a consequence, the society arranged for the removal of the 4 managed colonies from within the Reserve (there were 2 feral colonies, plus many hives within a few hundred metres).

    see also https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/our-position-statements/
    A friend John Locke is an excellent naturalist and involved with Richmond Park; I thought I had a copy of his article in the Richmond Park newslettery thing, but he told me he wrote that he now considers honey bees to be an invasive species in the park due to the number of hives in and around the site.
    the London BKA have a statement

    London Bee Keepers Association have a “position statement: ” http://www.lbka.org.uk/downloads/lbka_bee-declines.pdf

    & Kew Gardens have done some work on this …. see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/24/this-only-saves-honeybees-the-trouble-with-britains-beekeeping-boom-aoe

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