Associated with Natural History Museum, University of Oslo

Bees in the city

Many of our crops are dependent on pollinating insects, thus these winged friends are of great importance to food security. Disappearance of bees is a hot topic in the media, but the potential competition between wild bees and honey bees in the city is under-communicated. On 3rd of September the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo (NHM) hosted a science café about this theme. 

The participants at the science café were served drinks and honey cake while filling out questionnaires.Photo credit: Kristina Bjureke

A common misconception related to the disappearance of bees is that it’s the honey bees that are dying, as is the case in USA. In Norway it is the disappearance of wild bees that is the concern. Shortage of suitable habitats is a threat to wild bees. Is it right to increase the competition for pollen and nectar in the city by beekeeping? 

Three experts were invited to a relaxed evening event. The audience was encouraged to ask questions, make comments and fill in a pre- and post-event questionnaire. Our goals were to increase the participants’ knowledge of the disappearance of wild bees in Norway, raise awareness of competition between wild bees and honey bees in the city, and collect people’s thoughts on the topic. 

The panel was composed of an entomologist from our institution (NHM), the leader of the beekeeping organisation in Oslo (ByBi) and an ecologist from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research who researches the competition between wild and honey bees. In addition to the experts and our staff, 43 people attended the science café. 

Competition between honey bees and wild bees can naturally lead to disagreements between beekeepers and conservation biologists. This was not the case in this panel - in Norway the dialogue has been good, unlike many other countries. There has been a lot of research in rural areas where competition has been proven. In urban areas, on the other hand, few studies have been done. 

Domestic and wild bee on Heracleum sphondylium. Left: Honey bee Apis mellifera. Honey bees are the only bee kept in culture for honey production. Right: A plasterer bee, Colletes sp. The plasterer bees are solitary, ground-nesting bees. The question is: aDomestic and wild bee on Heracleum sphondylium. Photo credit: Bjørn Einar Sakseid

The ecologist gave us a brief summary of ongoing research in this field, which is scarce. The local authorities, in collaboration with beekeepers and scientists, have made a map of areas in Oslo with vulnerable insects in order to avoid beekeeping in these places. The control of numbers of beehives is good. This corresponds well with the messages from the audience:

  •  The policy for conservation and enrichment of biodiversity must be thoroughly thought through.  Don´t wait for science results before taking actions for conservation of biodiversity - the precautionary principle.
  • Support biodiversity through urban planning, less asphalt and lawns. Employ people with expertise in biodiversity in development projects and let them influence the processes.
  • Citizens need more information on the importance of pollinators in the city and what they can do to help them.

In the audience there was a range of levels of knowledge, from those who knew next to nothing about bees, to those who wanted to hear about the status on the research in the field.  It can be challenging to meet everyone’s needs and expectations with such a diverse crowd. However, as the majority of the audience reported that they had learned something and/or had been made aware of new issues.