BY THOMAS CAMPBELL
What started as a hobby has turned into a buzzing ‘cottage industry.’
South London-born Barnaby Shaw, 38, from Kennington Wharf, founded BeeUrban six years ago in the hope of making London’s urban spaces greener.
Mr Shaw now oversees 40 beehives across the capital, housing more than 2.4 million bees at landmark sites including the Lyric Hammersmith, National Theatre and Tate Modern.
Standing outside Archbishop Park apiary in Lambeth, Mr Shaw said: “My dad used to keep bees when I was a lot younger and I wanted to get him back into it.
“He wasn’t very interested and had other things to do but I caught the bug.”
The hives produce around 3,000 pots of honey each year, which is harvested once a year and sold locally in cafés and delis, as well as at fetes and festivals.
Mr Shaw said: “The price to yield doesn’t pay for itself, a lot of delis want a big mark-up, which I think becomes unaffordable.
“Although in relative terms it’s cheaper, you know people will spend a fortune on a pint of beer or other foods generally.”
The ‘cottage industry’ has helped fund a range of community projects.
BeeUrban’s Camberwell Subterranea hosts free bicycle repairs, carpentry and plumbing workshops and has built 10 raised ‘green’ beds for fruit trees, herbs and salads.
But a report by The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) published in May this year has warned that many of the UK’s 200 bee species are on the brink of extinction.
The report, titled Bees Under Siege, finds climate change, habitat loss, pollution and diseases to be the biggest threat to the UK’s £690m bee economy.
South London suffered an outbreak of a disease called Foulbrood last year – a fungus which stops the bees’ larvae from growing into adults and is easily spread from one hive to another.
Mr Shaw said: “Usually it’s the demise of the colony unless you treat it, which basically means you have to burn all the frames and scorch all the equipment. “But last year they couldn’t do that.
We salvaged the hives but it was too late for the bees.” The hives have since recovered and should be back up and buzzing before the end of the year.
Around 15 species of bee are believed to be regionally extinct – including the Great Yellow Bumblebee, the Potter Flower Bee and the Cliff Mason Bee, according to the WWF.
“We’ve tried to go for quite a famous hybrid called the Buckfast bee in most of our hives,” said Mr Shaw.
“A lot of them are hybrid, either locally-raised, or for lack of a better word, mongrel bees.”
The organisation is always looking for volunteers and sponsors to help harvest the honey and build green spaces in urban areas that can support wildlife.
For more information about BeeUrban events and how to become a volunteer, see http://beeurban.org.uk/.