The London Beekeepers' Association
We are grateful to Ashurst for sponsoring our forage-creation programmme.
Please contact us if you'd like to find out how you can support our education, training and forage-creation projects.
Frequently asked questions
Why is urban beekeeping important?
Just like rural areas bees in urban habitats provide valuable ecosystems services pollinating trees, flowers and garden crops.
Is urban beekeeping an alternative to the traditional one or are they complementary?
The basic principles of beekeeping remain the same but the beekeeper has a duty to be extra vigilant about swarms in urban areas. Swarms can frighten and panic your neighbours, they can also be a disruption to local businesses and services resulting in financial loss. Keeping bees in an urban area requires the keeper to be responsible and considerate to their neighbours.
How do bee hives work?
Until 1880, European beekeepers generally kept bees in skeps (baskets), in which bees would build honeycomb, raise their young and store honey. These are impossible to inspect in detail to check for disease, so little "beekeeping" was involved, except at harvest time when the bees would be driven away and the nest destroyed.
Langstroth's removable-frame hive improved the situation significantly, because it allowed beekeepers to temporally take apart colony for inspective and put it together again without too much disruption to the bees. Honey can be harvested by removing boxes of frames from the hive. The hive design also ensures that larvae are not raised in the part of the hive in which honey is stored.
Most beekeepers in the UK use the National hive, which - along with most hive designs - is designed on this principle. As the season progresses, supers (boxes of frames for honey) are added to the top of the hive as bees fill them with honey. If the bees have made more honey than they need to survive the winter, some of these can be harvested during the season or (usually) at the end.
Some beekeepers prefer to use hives without frames; for example Warré hives or top-bar hives. Most of these, use provide horizontal strips of wood from which bees can build natural comb. Beekeeping practice is different with these types of hive. It is more difficult to inspect the colony and it is very hard to do effective swarm control.
There are people who say bees are dangerous, so they shouldn't be so close to humans? Can bees and humans coexist in a big city without problem? Are bees dangerous?
Most honey bees are not a threat to humans. It is only when their hives are interfered with that they usually get aggressive. Colonies can become more easily agitated at certain times of the year and some colonies can become aggressive. The keeper should ensure hives are sufficiently far away from neighbours so that they won't become a problem. Also the keeper should have a plan of action to deal with aggressive colonies quickly such as moving them to an out apiary. Very few people are seriously harmed or killed by bees in the UK. Far More people are mauled by aggressive dogs.
How did your project in London started? How many people are involved? in which way has it changed the life of the community?
London beekeepers association has been around a very long time, far longer than any of our current members can remember. We are part of the British Beekeepers Association which is over 100 years old. In 2014 we had 370 members.
How extended is urban beekeeping in London right now?
As of 18th December 2014 in London there are 4218 registered hives belonging to around 1400 Beekeepers. The actual figure is estimated to be over 5000 managed hives. No one knows for certain how many bee colonies there are as there are also wild or feral colonies and not all beekeeper's register their hives.
What pests and diseases affect bees?
There are many pests and diseases that affects bees.
The most widespread problem for the Western Honey bee is the varoa mite. While they don't actually kill bees themselves, they spread diseases such as "deformed wing virus" which can kill the entire colony. Accidentally introduced from Asia, they are now endemic in our colonies. Unlike the Asian Honey Bee, the Western Honey Bee (that European beekeepers keep) cannot deal with these easily and most colonies will die without intervention. Beekeepers use a combination of colony management techniques and treatment to control these mites.
Regional (government-employed) Bee Inspectors help ensure that serious diseases such as American Foul Brood and European Foul Brood (a notifiable diseases) are kept under control and beekeepers need to look out for tell-tale signs and remain vigilant.
How do I capture bees to test for disease?
Sometimes, the most sure way to test for disease is to collect a sample of bees for analysis, by studying them under a microscope or doing a laboratory test. Try and take the sample as soon as possible before you test them.
The easiest way to capture them is to hold an open polythene bag in front of the entrance and capture the bees that are flying in. You can also use a matchbox to collect a sample by scraping it across a frame of bees. You'll probably need about 30 bees, but make sure you don't get the queen! You'll need to kill them by placing the bag in a fridge overnight.
Do bees make enough honey for us harvest?
The amount of honey that a colony make depends on the health of the colony, the space they have and the weather. Healthy colonies, with a productive queen, with plenty of space and in a good year, weatherwise, usually makes more honey than they need for the winter. If a beekeeper wants a honey crop, he/she has to make a judgement about how much honey to take. Some beekeepers choose to take a significant portion of honey and feed the bees sugar at the end of the season and throughout the winter. Beekeepers need to monitor food supplies in the hive, particularly in spring where colonies are at highest risk of starvation, and feed where necessary.
The quality of the honey in urban beekeeping is as high as the one from the countryside?
London honey has a unique taste and aroma. It differs from rural English honey in that it has a much more complex taste. This is because there are many exotic flowers and trees in the city which complement the wild flowers found everywhere else. Our honey is very high quality but we don't make as much as most rural areas as we lack seasonal super abundance of nectar provided by agricultural crops.
Should urban beekeeping be in hands of well organized project such as yours or is there also room for private initiatives in private houses?
Anyone can keep bees but it is a big commitment, not to be under-estimated and we recommend anyone wanting to keep bees first attends a comprehensive training course with a local association and that they register their bees with the National Bee Unit.
Can urban beekeeping be a model and an example of sustainable agriculture (and business)?
There are several examples of small scale urban enterprises making a profit from keeping bees in London.
Here are a few we know about:
The Golden Company - a charity set up to work with young people to encourage them to develop entrepreneurship work with teenagers to care for bees and sell honey. They have a stall at borough market where they sell honey from LBKA bees.
The London Honey Company - A small business which probably have the most hives in London owned by a single entity. They make speciality honeys which are sold at the likes of Fortnum and Mason.
LBKA ourselves produce honey for sale to shops, outlets, local businesses and direct to the public. Our honey sales last year were around £6000 and we still have not sold it all. Money raised goes to fund our charitable and outreach activities.
Do you have the support of public institutions in any way?
We have much support from the public to help bees. We also have corporate sponsors who sponsor some of our activities and social housing companies and local councils who are keen to work with us to improve urban green spaces for bees.
ASHURTS a firm of international lawyers fund our teaching apiary at Mudchute City Farm and have sponsored our bee friendly seed give away to schools and community groups.
Peri peri chicken chain Nando's are currently sponsoring a planting for bees effort we are delivering in London, which includes donating funds and staff time to volunteer.
We have also had support from Neil's Yard Remedies 'bee lovely fund' to fund planting projects and outreach resources. Their monetary donation comes from sales of their 'bee lovely' cosmetics and skin care range.
Giving up beekeeping
Pressures may be such that beekeepers may choose to stop keeping bees, e.g. moving house, the time commitment becomes too great, people become allergic to bee stings or neighbours may make life difficult.
If this happens to you, please talk to us. We will help find a new home for your bees and will offer advice on how to rehome your bees and how to deal with second hand equipment. The BBKA has a useful leaflet.
What do I do if I think a hive has been abandoned?
This BBKA leaflet tells you what to do to ensure your bees are not removed by mistake, if you take on land with beehives where you don't know the owners or if beekeepers refuse to move their hives.
©2017 London Beekeepers' Association