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Top Bee-FriendlyCities in the UK

22nd April, 2024

22nd April, 2024

When we talk about bees, the first thing that pops into your mind is the idyllic image of a country garden filled with flowers and lots of fluffy, yellow and black striped bumblebees buzzing among them.

But did you know that there are around 270 different types of bees in the UK and only 24 of these species are actually bumblebees. What’s even more surprising is that only a small number of these bee species live in hives or colonies - the majority of them prefer a solitary life.

But where’s the buzziest city in the UK? We’ve rounded up the top bee-friendly cities across the UK.

TYPES OF BEE IN THE UK

The minority bee species, bumblebees, are a social group that tend to nest in undisturbed areas such as a bird box, your loft or even a compost heap.

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Each species has the same fluffy appearance, but they differ in size and colouring. For example, a tree bumblebee has orange hairs on its back with a white tail and are usually found in woodlands. While the red-tailed bumblebee has a big red bottom and can be found in gardens and hedgerows.

The other group of social bees are the honeybees (as you guessed it, these are the ones that make honey). They are thinner in the body with black and golden orange stripes and their colonies can have up to 60,000 bees at any one time.

Now on to the solitary bees. There are 240 different species living wild in the UK, either on their own or in small groups. These fascinating creatures create their nests almost anywhere - above and below ground. For example, the mason bee with its black face and ginger body can be found near the brickwork of your house where it will lay its eggs, whereas the mining bee does just that and heads underground, so if you spot a hole in your lawn surrounded by excavated earth then this bee is probably the reason!

WHY DO WE NEED TO SAVE BEES IN THE UK?

So, if only one species of bee is making the honey, what are the rest of them doing? They are in fact doing an important job by pollinating a lot of the food we need including vegetables, fruits and even food for feeding livestock.

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They do such a good job, it’s estimated that almost 75% of our flowering plants are pollinated by insects and animals, with bees doing a large majority of this work. To top it off, in the bee community it is the solitary bees that takes the top award for the most effective pollinator (even better than the honeybees)!!

However, there is a bit of a problem, and the bumblebees and solitary bees are struggling. The combination of intensive farming methods, climate change and over-development of our green spaces has reduced the food sources they need to survive. As a result, about 35 species of UK bees are now in danger of becoming extinct.

BEE-FRIENDLY CITIES

Fortunately, it’s not too late and we can do our bit to help. This is particularly evident in urban areas where plans are already in place to boost the sustainability credentials of cities by creating green spaces. This will not only reduce the effects of pollutants and the urban heat island effect, but it also encourages bees and wildlife into the area.

MANCHESTER

Recently named the best city in the UK for bees (not surprising when you consider their emblem is the worker bee), Manchester can boast a high percentage of green spaces and the most flower gardens per square mile compared to the other big cities. They are also one of the most flower-obsessed cities with over 1200 flowers for every 100,000 residents – a huge 51% more than the UK average.

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Manchester’s Green and Blue Infrastructure Strategy has been working to create greener and healthier areas into neighbourhoods. One example of this has seen the installation of a living wall (think of a carpet of plants growing up a wall and you’ve got the right idea) at Deansgate Castlefield Metrolink station which acts as a carbon catcher to absorb CO2 and other pollutants.

NEWCASTLE

Newcastle has taken it one step further by creating its own Bee Strategy to protect bees in the city! This includes educating their communities about the importance of bees and adapting neighbourhoods to make them more attractive with pollinator friendly flowers.

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They are also reducing the use of pesticides and working with allotment holders to help them become bee keepers.

EDINBURGH

Edinburgh have also installed hives on top of commercial buildings across the city. One of these is the Eden Locke Hotel in George Street has fours hives that are home to around 20,000 honeybees. Not only does this play a vital role in encouraging these pollinators to the city but the hotel can also serve honey to their guests!

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Edinburgh is doing a pretty good job for bees by protecting and enhancing the green spaces around their city. It’s not surprising to learn that they have an incredibly low average pollution ranking and are one of the highest percentages of green spaces for a UK city.

BIRMINGHAM

Birmingham’s educators are working hard teaching about the benefits of bees. The University of Birmingham has created their very own bee hotel which provides a training area for the Birmingham District Beekeepers Association.

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Birmingham City University’s city centre campus is also home to a colony of 8,000 buckfast bees. Not only do they create a positive ecological impact to the area, but the bees have taken up some teaching and are an integral part for students leaning on their courses such as filmmaking and architecture.

LONDON

With such a dense population, London works hard to keep it as green as possible by encouraging their residents to explore their amazing parks and get involved in greening their neighbourhoods.

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This includes plans to re-wild London, such as creating meadows for pollinator and new wetlands for birds. It also boasts ‘The Hive’ at Kew Gardens, where lights and sounds inside are triggered by real-time vibrations – a method of communication favoured by bees - from a beehive at Kew.

Lambeth has already won funding which will create 10 miles of wildflower patches, rain gardens and new woodland to boost biodiversity and support bees in the city.

WHAT IS URBAN BEE KEEPING?

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Creating enough flowers in our cities is incredibly important due to the rise of Urban Beekeeping (basically creating hives and keeping bees in a city setting). The trend has proven so successful the National count by DEFRA in 2020 showed that the largest increase in hives colonies across the UK was seen in urban areas. It has become so popular in Greater London that the number of hives have tripled over the past decade to around 7,000 colonies!

You might not think a city is the best place for a hive, but you’ll be surprised to learn that these urban bees have access to a greater and constant selection of plants which enables them to be healthier and more productive than their country dwelling cousins.

If you’re thinking of taking it up, make sure you do your research – you don’t want to go upsetting your neighbours with an angry swarm of bees!!

HOW TO SAVE BEES IN YOUR CITY

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Do you live in a city and want to support the bees but maybe don’t want to go to the extreme lengths of keeping a hive? We can all do our bit and when you consider that the average bee flies less than a mile from the hive to find food, planting some bee friendly flowers will really help. Even the smallest group of potted plants or a hanging basket outside your home will attract the bees. If you’re lucky enough to have access to your roof you could also set up a rooftop garden (best to check if its structurally safe first – you don’t want to bring the whole roof down!).

You could also create a hotel for bees. The space provides a place for the bees to live (usually from the moment it is laid as an egg until it emerges as an adult). You can make one very easily from a plant pot and some hollow canes such as bamboo.

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BEE FRIENDLY BUNDLE

If you can't make your own bee house but you want to make a home for the bees where you live, don't worry! Our Bee Friendly Bundle contains a pre-made house that'll be perfect for the V.I.Bees. It also comes with a lavender plant (which pollinators love) in a lovely ceramic pot as well as a grow bar which will grow into more bee friendly blooms!

OUTSIDE OF CITIES

Even bees in the countryside need help and you can do your bit by planting a wide mix of pollinator friendly flowers. In the spring (between March and May) go for something simple like the primrose or the hyacinth. While in the summer months you can’t go too far wrong with the aromatic lavender. For flowers that will keep going into late summer and early autumn why not choose a marigold.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, you could also visit one of the National Trust’s bee-friendly gardens.