in the city

City dwellers get a buzz from the simple joy of beekeeping
Amelia Hill
Sunday April 11 2004
The Observer

Dissilusioned with city life but unable to tear themselves away, young professionals have found a new way to bring nature to their door: beekeeping has become the latest fashionable hobby among the urban elite.

After a generation of dwindling membership, beekeeping associations across Britain are noticing membership steadily rising - and they think they know why.

'There has been a surge in the numbers of young, urban people wanting to keep bees, because it's somehow become the cool and trendy thing,' said Kate Canning of the Twickenham and Thames Valley Bee Association, who keeps bees on the roof of her east London flat.

'It used to be an old person's hobby, but that's all changed now. In some of these cliques, appreciation of honey is seen as akin to having an awareness of good wine, in other groups it is regarded as fashionably eccentric while being also rather romantic and timeless,' she added.

Geraldine Swayne, a painter and film-maker in her thirties, bought her first hive two years ago and sells the honey at farmers' fairs across north London. 'Beekeeping has become deeply cool among my friends, both artists and professionals alike,' she said.

'What I think is most wild about it is wearing the veil and smoking out the hives. But there's also the fashionable side of doing something environmental that revolves around the seasons, while still living in the city.'

More than 350 new members have joined the BBA in the past two years, the first increase in members since 1980 and at least 20 times more than in the previous three years combined.

'There's been a massive revival in urban beekeeping and most are young people who have never kept bees before,' said Glyn Davies, the president of the British Beekeepers Association.

'Our courses in beginners' bee husbandry have never been so popular.'

There is a growing recognition that bees living in cities tend to produce more and better honey than those kept in the countryside.

'Bees can fly up to five miles for food, but they tend not to stray more than a mile from the hive,' said Davies.

'Many people think the honey crops in cities are of a higher quality than those made by bees in the countryside because there's a near-constant flow of tremendously varied nectar to be harvested in cities from all the parks, trees, gardens and window boxes,' he added.

'If you compare these multiple harvesting opportunities to those offered by the countryside, which tends to be grouped into areas dominated by a single crop which only flowers once a year, it's clear why cities are such good places to keep bees.'

City bees also tend to be livelier sparks than their country cousins. 'The higher temperature of the city means that bees stay awake for longer during the day and are more active,' said John Hauxwell, chairman of the North London Beekeeping Association, who has seen his group's membership double in the last five years.

It takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey, with the average rural hive of 45,000 bees producing 30lb a year. City bees can produce twice that amount.

John Buckoke, a musician who has two hives at his home in London, said: 'I have to climb out of a tiny window to get to the flat roof where I've put the hives. It's a wonderful hobby, there's no better way for a city-liver to get back in touch with nature. Every city dweller should have a hive.'

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

To see this story with its related links on the The Observer site, go to