London beekeeper develops first ‘bee forage’ index

image002Bees are riding a wave of popularity. And nowhere more so than in London. But London beekeeper Dale Gibson of Bermondsey Street Bees is one of many in the craft signalling a significant problem. London bees don’t have enough to eat and the ever-increasing number of hives being installed by both private individuals and corporate bodies is now pushing urban colonies to the brink of starvation. London has come bottom of the British Beekeepers’ Association table of UK regional honey yields in 2 of the last 3 years

Hive density in London has soared as beekeeping has become a fashionable hobby. According to the National Bee Unit, there are some 3,225 beehives within a 10 kilometre radius of Gibson’s Central London apiary alone. Feeding that many hives requires 8,000 metric tonnes of nectar and 1,600 tonnes of pollen, each year, just for the colonies to survive.

That’s a big ask in an intensely urban environment. Fortunately, London is rich in green spaces which have been able to support the doubling of London’s hive population over the last 10 years. But the city’s capacity to feed an exponentially growing bee population is not infinite and green spaces are being continuously eroded.

And the problem is by no means confined to London, or to urban bees. Agricultural monoculture can be a death knell for country colonies too. To raise awareness of this crucial countrywide issue, Dale Gibson has developed The Apis Forage Index (AFI) and is offering it free to all existing and would-be beekeepers.

Up to now, there has been no common language to describe the single most important factor in beekeeping: what the bees will have to eat. The AFI fills that gap. It’s a user-friendly ready-reckoner, available on-line for a free assessment of the forage value of any potential apiary site. Following easy instructions, users input answers to 10 questions and achieve a percentage score : an AFI reading over 50% means that the site is viable from a forage perspective, under 50% means that the user should think again about placing a hive in that location, or introduce a quantity of local forage before doing so.

Dale Gibson comments “I’ve used the disciplines of my stockbroking background (where indices are everyday tools) to highlight and address the looming forage disaster.Many problems affecting colonies today are hard for individual beekeepers to change, but the forage question is one of simple social responsibility.The Apis Forage Index is designed to make people consider the forage aspect of beekeeping before they site a beehive and take action locally if needed.If we succeed in raising awareness of the forage issue, we will have taken a crucial step together on the road to responsible and sustainable beekeeping.”

Dale Gibson has apiaries in London and Suffolk. He provides apicultural consultancy to leading chefs and has recently set up an apiary for the new Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire.

He works with the local authorities, local charities and volunteers in London to actively create urban greening through bee friendly planting in local parks and other available spaces.

For more information or to download The Apis Forage Index


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