Urban Beehives

Rooftop Beehives, Vancouver Convention Centre, 2009. Photo by vancouverconvention

Urban beehives, also known as city beehives or urban apiaries, are beehives maintained within urban areas, typically in cities or towns. These beehives are part of urban beekeeping initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability, biodiversity, and food security in urban environments.

Urban beehives can have positive effects on other ecosystem services, emphasising the significance of their location. Beehives can be strategically placed in various settings, including urban residential areas, community gardens, urban rooftops, and farmland. Given that bees typically forage for nectar, pollen, and water within a radius of approximately 3 kilometres from their hive, careful consideration of location is paramount to maximise their positive impacts. Ideal locations include areas near fruiting plants, food plants, or perennials.

Beehives serve as habitat systems for bees, which play a crucial role in pollinating crops and gardens. Pollination by bees constitutes a vital ecosystem service for both agricultural and urban environments (Theodorou, 2020). Approximately 85% of angiosperms (flowering plants) rely on bee pollinators (Hernandez et al., 2009), underscoring their importance. Pollinators are also essential for crop pollination, thereby ensuring food security (Theodorou et al., 2020).

See also: Pollinator pathways / bee-friendly planting.

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Name of NbS

Urban Beehives

Type of NbS

Engineered intervention

Location

  • Urban
  • Periurban

Case Study

Bees Up Top

Urban bees New Zealand, 2023. Photo by Urban Bees https://www.urbanbees.co.nz/

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge

The region has many native pollinating bee species (Dorey et al. 2024), but honey is almost entirely produced with introduced European honeybees in movable-frame hives. Most of Oceania’s bees are solitary species, meaning they don’t live in colonies or make honey, though there are a few native honey bees in some islands. There is limited traditional beehive knowledge in the region.

Climate change benefits
  • Loss of food production
  • Changes in phenology

Urban beehives offer climate change benefits by fostering biodiversity and enhancing urban resilience. By providing habitat for bees, urban beehives support local pollinator populations, thereby promoting plant diversity and ecosystem health in urban areas. Potential increased green space and biodiversity resulting from urban beekeeping can help mitigate the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, and enhance overall urban livability.

Bees play a crucial role in pollinating flowering plants. As climate change alters temperature and precipitation patterns, flowering times of plants may shift. Urban bee populations can help facilitate pollination during these changing phenological periods, ensuring the continued reproduction of plants and maintaining ecosystem stability.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Food security

Beehives provide a wide range of benefits to society. The service of bees supports farmers’ and beekeepers’ livelihoods as well as represents social and cultural benefits, while also maintaining ecosystem stability for native flora and fauna (Klein et al. 2018). Bees ensure the reproduction of plants, and sustain ecosystems for biodiversity, allowing for air purification, carbon sequestration, and temperature regulation specifically for urban contexts (Klein et al. 2018).

Pollination services are essential for ensuring food security, particularly in densely populated urban areas (Theodorou, 2020). It is estimated that 35% of the world’s crop production is reliant on pollinators, underscoring the critical role of bees in sustaining biodiversity and supporting agricultural productivity (Silman et al., 2021).

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Habitat provision
  • Medicinal resources
  • Food production for humans
  • Genetic resources (diversity)

The presence of urban beehives offers several benefits to cities and their inhabitants. These include increased pollination of urban gardens and green spaces, which can lead to higher yields of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, honey produced by urban bees can be harvested and consumed locally, promoting sustainable food production and supporting local beekeeping businesses.

Urban beekeeping initiatives raise awareness about the importance of pollinators and biodiversity conservation, fostering community engagement and environmental stewardship. Through education and outreach efforts, urban beekeepers can promote sustainable practices and advocate for policies that support pollinator-friendly habitats and urban green infrastructure.

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Technical requirements

Urban beehives have specific technical requirements crucial for their successful establishment and maintenance. Firstly, adequate space is essential, particularly in densely populated urban areas where obstacles can impede bee foraging and movement. 

Bees typically require access to nectar, pollen, and water sources within a 3 kilometre radius of the hive to sustain their colony. When positioning beehives, it’s imperative to select sheltered spots that offer protection from harsh weather conditions and minimise disturbance from frequently used areas.

Ensuring suitable hive design and construction materials that provide insulation, ventilation, and protection from pests and predators is essential for bee health and hive productivity. Regular hive inspections and maintenance, along with appropriate disease management practices, are crucial for the well-being of urban bee colonies. 


Engaging with local regulations if there are any, and obtaining necessary permits or permissions for urban beekeeping activities is vital to ensure compliance with legal requirements.

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OHAI Beekeepers, Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Photo by VSA. https://vsa.org.nz/our-work/articles/getting-tongas-crops-buzzing/

Issues and Barriers

In Te Moananui Oceania, urban beehives face several challenges. One significant issue is the lack of education about beekeeping, particularly in urban areas, leading to a shortage of skilled beekeepers. Rapid urbanisation has further exacerbated this problem, reducing access to diverse flora and fauna that bees require for foraging. Additionally, the dense urban environment poses obstacles such as vehicular traffic, pedestrians, and tall buildings, which can disrupt bee movement and foraging patterns. Furthermore, urban pollution, including pesticides and air contaminants, may adversely affect bee health and hive productivity.

Research shows honeybees, an introduced species, may compete with some native species for food as they forage nectar and pollen from many of the same flowers as native birds, bats, lizards and insects at least in the Aotearoa New Zeland context. Honeybees can increase pollination of some weeds and alter pollination processes in some native plants.This means beekeeping on public conservation land is carefully managed (Beard, 2015). These issues may not be pressing in urban environments, but discussion with experts is required before setting up urban beehives projects.

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Opportunities

In Te Moananui Oceania, urban beehives present various opportunities for economic, social, and environmental benefits. By enhancing beekeeping knowledge, communities can establish training programmes and workshops, fostering skills development and promoting sustainable practices.

Engaging in urban beekeeping strengthens social cohesion by bringing together diverse groups to learn and collaborate.

Urban beekeeping contributes to environmental conservation efforts by supporting pollinator populations and enhancing urban biodiversity and urban food growing which enhances community resilience. 

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Financial case

A case study conducted in Western Kenya highlights the financial benefits of bee pollination, indicating that it significantly improves crop productivity and produce quality (Kasina, 2009). This underscores the economic value of bees in urban agricultural systems, especially during periods of food insecurity.

Urban beekeeping can generate additional income through honey production and the sale of hive-related products. Beyond direct economic gains, urban beekeeping also contributes to the resilience of local food systems and supports sustainable livelihoods for beekeepers and farmers.

References
  • Beard, C., (2015). Honeybees (Apis mellifera) on public conservation lands: A risk analysis. A report prepared for the Department of Conservation, New Zealand. Available online: https://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/honeybees-on-public-conservation-lands.pdf. Date accessed 16 May, 2024.
  • Dorey, J.B; Gilpin, A; Davies, O. (2024). Secrets in the canopy: scientists discover 8 striking new bee species in the Pacific. The Conversation.  Available online: https://theconversation.com/secrets-in-the-canopy-scientists-discover-8-striking-new-bee-species-in-the-pacific-222599. Date accessed 16 May 2024.
  • Hernandez, J. L., Frankie, G. W., & Thorp, R. W. (2009). Ecology of urban bees: a review of current knowledge and directions for future study. Cities and the Environment (CATE)2(1), 3.
  • Theodorou, P., Radzevičiūtė, R., Lentendu, G., Kahnt, B., Husemann, M., Bleidorn, C., … & Paxton, R. J. (2020). Urban areas as hotspots for bees and pollination but not a panacea for all insects. Nature communications11(1), 1-13.
  • Kasina, J. M., Mburu, J., Kraemer, M., & Holm-Mueller, K. (2009). Economic benefit of crop pollination by bees: a case of Kakamega small-holder farming in western Kenya. Journal of economic entomology102(2), 467-473.
  • Nicholls, C. I., & Altieri, M. A. (2013). Plant biodiversity enhances bees and other insect pollinators in agroecosystems. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable development33(2), 257-274.

Further resources