I’d heard rumours of beautiful duck egg blue beehives on the roof of Fortnum & Mason, but suspected an urban myth. In my pursuit of London truths (and because I really wanted to get up there and see the bees for myself), I tracked down Steve Benbow, the founder of London Honey Company, who manages these legendary hives and many others around the capital, including those on the roof of the National Portrait Gallery and both of the Tates. I can now confirm that these hives DO exist and they are just as lovely as you would imagine.
The capital’s bees have had a tough year so far, what with all the rain and crazy weather, but on our visit Steve was happy with his hives, giving us a full tour of the colonies, checking up on them and pointing out the queens. There was something very magical about being so high above the manic streets of Piccadilly and watching all the bees quietly going about their business. It’s no wonder that Steve was so chilled out. He doesn’t even wear gloves (note my full body bee-proof suit!)
Fortnum & Mason sell the honey produced in these hives downstairs in their food hall, but this year has been so tough on the bees that their honey is like liquid gold. To make the most of the limited harvest, they are auctioning off a pot (complete with honeycomb) tomorrow (Friday September 28) at 6pm. Bidding is already open and currently stands at the rather eye-watering sum of £100. If this is out of your price range, we recommend you head down to the shop at 4pm when Steve will be signing copies of his book ‘The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City’ which may well inspire you to start making your own honey (much more fun).
We shot the beeze (sorry!) with Steve about how you can help London’s bees…
What could we be doing for bees in London?
‘I am often asked about what planting individuals could establish for bees across the capital. Honey bees especially love mature trees as a nectar source. Limes and acacias are particularly important but sycamores, chestnuts, hawthorns and blackthorns are good too, however although the planting of these is an essential thing, they do not provide instant bee fodder.’
What should we be planting?
‘I recommend early pollen sources such as crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells which are excellent early pollen yielders, pollen is rich in protein and fantastic for young bee growth. The autumn is also a key time, with ivy and buddleia providing late nectar flows, allowing the colony to build up for the barren months ahead. London is 65% green space but I believe there could be greater nectar sources and safe havens.’
What if I don’t have a garden?
‘If, like me, you have no garden or roof terrace, then I’d like to introduce to you “guerilla gardening”. Have you ever thought that your local roundabout looked a little shabby or a local patch of wasteland needs beautifying? If so, just grab some wild flower seeds and scatter. We have just started selling bee bombs here at Bee HQ. When soaked they resemble a soil hand grenade and are fantastic as they contain everything you will need to start your own little wild flower patch – just soak and chuck.
‘You could also persuade your local park or open space to reduce or stop their use of pesticide - the cumulative affect on bees is now well proven and catastrophic. There is a real move to make London free of these terrors, like Paris already is, and the sooner it happens the better. Persuading local authorities to make everything less manicured is also important, not only for bees but other wildlife such as butterflies. Long grasses are a haven and can also look wonderful. I passed Blackheath common the other morning and it had the most amazing white clover covering it… two days later it was fully trimmed! Finally, it’s been a terrible year for honey production in the UK so where possible try and buy local or British honey.’ Sonya Barber