Typically, when we think of bees we associate them with open meadows, gardens, and more rural settings. But did you know bees are some of the best urban survivors, finding ways to make life work alongside the bustle of taxis and walls of skyscrapers?

On this edition of Saturdays Around the World, we journey to London to meet some of its less well-known inhabitants, urban bees. In the face of habitat loss and declining populations, bees have found ways to thrive in the nooks, crannies, and rooftops of one of the world’s busiest cities!

Image: Beekeepers on a rooftop in London, England

Courtesy of Black Bee Honey

Let’s begin with a species that often goes overlooked; the bumblebee. These little friends are surprisingly pretty well adapted to make life in the big city work. As they lose much of their wild habitat, London’s 3 million gardens and numerous hideaways make it an ideal place for bumblebees to thrive and call home.

These creatures are some of nature’s most incredible gatherers, flying miles every day to collect and carry their own body weight in nectar and pollen. In this beautiful piece form the BBC we get to watch the world of London through some of its smallest and most active inhabitants!

Via: BBC 1

Animals have found some pretty incredible ways to survive alongside our urban lives. As it turns out, England has quite a few interesting urban inhabitants! A while back we did a feature on the wildlife photographer Bertie Gregory’s urban excursions that took him face to face with some of the UK’s larger urban wildlife.

14 minutes

An Adventure in Urban Wildlife

The words "urban wildlife photography" may seem boring, perhaps pictures of squirrels or pigeons. It turns out, the animals that call our cities home have a lot to teach us!

Read More

Bumbles or Honey, what’s the difference?

We’ve talked about wild bumblebees, but what about honey bees? They are certainly the first species that comes to mind when we talk about bee populations, and it looks like urban beekeeping is also alive and well in London! Londoners, as with many other urban residents around the world, are turning to beekeeping and finding the results to be quite delightful.

If you take a minute to humor me here, I want to quickly clear up the difference between honey bees and bumblebees. To clarify, bumblebees are the larger fuzzier bees we see more slowly ambling around gardens. There are numerous species of bumblebee, the UK has 25 different species alone! In contrast, only one species of European honey bee is found and cultivated in the UK. 2

The two kinds of bees also have very different social structures. Bumblebees live in small colonies of 50-400 bees, while honeybees can live in colonies of 20,000 to 60,000. And that famous “waggle dance”? Well, that is a behavior exclusive to the honeybee. Bumblebees are thought to pass on information by sharing pollen! 3

You have probably heard how bee populations are in decline. This is true for both the bumblebees and the honey bee. Though for bumblebees, this population decline is the result of the loss of nesting places and flowers to feed on. Honey bee populations around the world are facing other threats like mites and disease.

Back to London’s urban bees…

Okay, with that little jaunt down bee lane, let’s get back to those honey bees and their urban keepers.

London may seem like a strange place to set up a hive and start collecting honey, but as you’ll see, just as the bumblebees find London a lovely place to live, honey bees can be quite content as well! There are over 500 managed beehives in London, and as connoisseurs of native London honey will tell you, the flavors these urban bees are producing are as unique as London’s many corners.

Let’s dive in with this little piece from BBC Earth Unplugged.

So there you have it, a little bit of London from the perspective of some of it’s tiny, but most important, inhabitants. It’s such a wonderful reminder that life finds a way in all corners of the globe. And, of course, that nature will find it’s way into our lives, no matter the urban obstacles!

Additionally, if you want to learn more about the beekeepers in the last video you can check them out at Black Bee Honey! There, you can buy some honey from London’s urban bees, or you can follow them over on Twitter and Instagram to stay in touch.

One more London bee experience!

Oh, one more thing from London the bee lovers among you may love.

While we were writing this story, Samantha, our curator and writer extraordinaire, was at the gym and struck up a conversation with a stranger who told her about a beautiful installation in London’s Kew Gardens. I’ve had the pleasure of taking a long summer day to stroll around these gardens, and they are really something to see if ever you find yourself in London.

The installation is called The Hive, and it was designed by UK artist Wolfgang Buttress. It’s a multisensory experience of light and sound triggered and inspired by the real beehive at Kew Gardens! 5

Take a look…

A little more for you to explore…

I hope you’ve enjoyed this jaunt through the city of London through some unique eyes. If you’re curious to see more bee content I’d suggest diving into any of the articles I’ll list below. They really will be a great way to tour the world of bees in an unexpected way!

15 minutes

The Last Hallucinogenic Honey Hunters of Nepal

What could come from documenting some of the most remarkable human traditions? Today we head to breathtaking heights on the steep cliffs of Nepal and have the privilege of looking behind the scenes of what's said to be the last traditional hallucinogenic honey harvest. You won't want to miss this!

Read More

9 minutes

The Beauty of Orchard Bees

With 20,000 known species of bee in the world, it's no surprise that they each go about life a little differently. We're lucky enough to learn more about the blue orchard mason bee and the beautiful homes they make for their young in this article!

Read More

7 minutes

Ever Wondered How Bees Make Honey?

Have you ever wondered how bees make honey? These complex creatures aren't just remarkable, they are a key part of the ecosystems we depend on!

Read More

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Enjoy a few more corners of the globe!

Have an itch to travel but don’t have the time–or money–to leave home, take a journey through our Saturdays Around the World series! You’ll find some incredible places to explore, and cultural gems to enjoy!

Saturdays Around the World

Notes:

  1. “The Incredible Secret Life of London’s Bees – BBC.” YouTube, BBC, 11 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQuI6wB9TvY. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
  2. Bumblebee Conservation Trust. “The Differences between Bumblebees and Honeybees.” Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bee-faqs/honeybees-vs-bumblebees/. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
  3. Bumblebee Conservation Trust. “The Differences between Bumblebees and Honeybees.” Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bee-faqs/honeybees-vs-bumblebees/. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
  4. “How Do Bees Find Food in the City? Urban Beekeeping and Hive Mind: | BBC Earth Unplugged.” YouTube, BBC Earth Unplugged, 9 Dec. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql3m9CCrBHw. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
  5. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “The Hive.” Marianne North Gallery | Historic Attractions At Kew Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, www.kew.org/kew-gardens/attractions/the-hive. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
  6. Kew. “The Hive at Kew Gardens.” YouTube, Royal Botanic Gardens, 31 Aug. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEsq8GREX9A. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV