Worker bees: bringing urban beekeeping to the workplace

A look into urban beekeeping, and how rooftop beehives can enhance the workplace.

Manchester bee bollard
Manchester bee bollard

It’s hard to walk anywhere in Manchester City Centre without seeing some kind of bee iconography. From the official logo on our bins to cartoonish illustrations in coffee shop windows, the bee is one of the best-known symbols of Manchester. Representing the city for more than 150 years, the bee portrays the hard work and conditions of labourers in Manchester throughout the Industrial Revolution. More recently, the bee continues to stand as a symbol of the hard work ethic of Mancunians, and a sense of unity within the city. However, it’s a little-known fact that Manchester City Centre is home to multiple rooftop apiaries, housing thousands of real bees. 

Manchester cathedral beehives
Manchester cathedral beehives

One such apiary rests atop Manchester Cathedral. Housing over a quarter of a million bees, there are currently six beehives resting atop the roof of the cathedral. Placing beehives on top of urban buildings is a great solution to a problem that often comes with urban beekeeping - how can you keep your bees from becoming distressed due to close proximity to people in a crammed city space? Housed safely up above the bustle of the city, rooftop bees have plenty of space to work without distraction. 

Bee populations are declining worldwide, and their decline puts entire ecosystems at risk - including ours. Bees are important pollinators which means they play a vital role in maintaining healthy plants for food production. This results in increased crop yield and better nutrition for humans. Without bees we would be left with sterile soil and limited sources of nutritious food such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. 

Urban apiaries have been popping up across Britain for a number of years now, with beekeepers bringing these creatures into big cities to monitor their effect on urban environments. In 2017, a survey from The University of Sheffield found that bee populations had increased by 45% due to urban apiaries and promoted beehives for both locals and tourists alike.

As we move back to office working post Covid-19, companies are adapting their workplaces to meet new expectations from staff. After many of us spent the last year working from home, the discussion about how employers can make the workplace a more rewarding space for employees is growing. People are looking for more from their office than just a space with a desk - they want somewhere that is worth commuting for.

HOME Manchester beehives
HOME Manchester beehives

Rooftop apiaries are an interesting way to enhance the workplace. After spending the past year cooped up inside, people are eager to return to workplaces that have something unique to offer. Rooftop beehives could give employers an opportunity to provide a unique work environment for their staff, providing ‘home made’ honey for office kitchens and showing that the company is willing to take an extra step in protecting the environment. Urban beekeeping is a great way for a company to show it cares for the environment, and it’s also a distinctive way to contribute to corporate social responsibility.

Whilst urban beekeeping is still relatively new, it’s definitely exciting. The practice may not have been around for long yet, but early studies show that urban bees produce up to 10lbs more honey per year than rural bees. Urban bees may also have access to greater biodiversity, as a result of monoculture farming in rural areas. Whilst the bee population is sadly still at risk, rooftop apiaries at least give us an opportunity to protect these important members of our ecosystem.

Image Credit: Gareth Hacking

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