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Chatting with Joe Wheatcroft in Source – a great deli in St Nicks market Bristol – led me to a close encounter with some urban bees last week. It was Joe’s idea to get some hives located on the market roof and after several years of trying, an approach to the new managers of the market paid off. Since the late spring Joe’s bee hives have been insitu with 2 colonies of bees now being built up.

Unseen by those shopping below, the hives are located within the shelter of high parapet walls, the roof is sunny, quiet, undisturbed and remarkably close to large sources of pollen. The landscape of Castle Park provides a huge reservoir of tree pollen with Limes being favourite species, but there are also a lot of cherry trees, satellite beds of vegetables and lavender hedges.

The beekeeper Quintin, with his Iraqi beekeeping mentor, deconstructs the hive, lifting out screens alive with bees dazed by pollen and a gentle puff of smoke. The hives have the brood area in the lowest part of the structure closest to the entrance. Here the Queen lays her eggs in a rugby shaped arc and the eggs are tended by the drones. In the layers above this the bees lay down pollen which becomes honey once it is regurgitated and the moisture levels reduced. Here it is stored for the winter and sealed off by a layer of wax once the cell is full. These upper frames are only taken by the beekeeper once he is sure that the hive has enough food store to last the winter.

According to the Guardian:
Bees pollinate a third of everything we eat and play a vital role in sustaining the planet’s ecosystems. Some 84% of the crops grown for human consumption – around 400 different types of plants – need bees and other insects to pollinate them to increase their yields and quality. These include most fruits and vegetables, many nuts, and plants such as rapeseed and sunflowers that are turned into oil, as well as cocoa beans, coffee and tea. Crops grown as fodder for dairy cows and other livestock are also pollinated by bees. And it’s not only food crops that rely on bee pollination, cotton does as well. As a result, annual global crop pollination by bees is estimated to be worth $170bn.

So it isn’t just for honey making that the bee performs a vital role in food production. Yet colonies of bees are vulnerable and may be lost to colony collapse, falling prey to Varroa mite and other parasites. In the southwest we lost 30% of colonies over last winter alone, so encouraging and sustaining bee populations should be high on everyone’s list.

Our colleague, artist Wolfgang Buttress, (designed the columns in our scheme at the Podium in Broadmead) has recently completed the extraordinary scheme for the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo which is designed to highlight the plight of the honeybee. You can see Wolf’s evocative structure on the link below.

Uk pavilion Milan expo 2015