Greetings. My name is Sara, and I’m a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment. I recently heard about the beekeeping class at the Arboretum. I think such a class is absolutely fantastic. For many people, including myself, honeybeekeeping serves to connect people to a wide range of larger interests, such as pollinators & causes of pollinator decline, environmental health, ecology, and more.
During my studies at SNRE and beyond, my thoughts on beekeeping, as well as the impacts it may incur as an increasingly common practice, have become more nuanced and over time I would like to share my thoughts with you with the goal of improving not only your program but also the state of the environment (and our relationship with it) at large. Please pardon me if you already incorporate the following ideas in your program — they are not really that far-fetched to anybody who works in the environment or sustainability fields. If not, maybe the ideas are worth thinking about or incorporating in some way into your program.
I have read some recent studies out of the UK that document the surprising ‘negative effects’ of ‘too much beekeeping’ in urban areas — the number of beehives being kept in urban areas has become greater than the number that the area can support, is promoting the spread of disease between hives, and potentially negatively impacting native pollinator populations who must compete with bees for nectar. In an attempt to help honeybees, well-meaning beekeepers may be in fact exacerbating several of the problems honeybees already face; the diverse populations of native pollinators (of which we know very little about) are likely to fare even worse, since they are not stewarded by humans and are probably much more specialized (and therefore more vulnerable to decline and extinction).
So — just like everything else, there seem to be tradeoffs — keeping bees deeply connects us to these “bigger picture” issues, but it is apparent to me that there are high-impact and low-impact ways to keep bees, especially in urban areas where nectar resources are low.
I was wondering if you cover or would consider teaching about “sustainable”, “low-impact”, or “green” beekeeping in the beekeeping class being offered at the Arb — this could simply mean emphasizing the importance of increasing the number of flowers or area of land protected whenever a new hive is established, or taking the time to build houses for native pollinators alongside the beekeeping activities being carried out. Another solution would be to promote the practice of “community beekeeping” where there are a few community-owned beehives located strategically around the city as opposed to lots dispersed randomly; what a great way to bring people in the community together. Promoting such awareness (of the impacts of beekeeping) and the accompanying actions (planting more flowers, making homes for native bees) seems like it would be essential, at least in urban areas, to ensure health for all bees and other pollinators — and I think they would be great to see in a program.
Well, those are my thoughts. Best wishes on the beekeeping program. Beekeeping really is an amazing experience that opens doors to so many other things and I hope that a lot of people sign up. Thank you so much for letting me share my thoughts. Have a great day.