The buzz of bees in Paris

The buzz of bees in Paris.

Why did Napoleon love bees? He loved them so much that the bee became his signature emblem. It is said that bees were his symbol of tenacity. But bees are now very much a Parisian motif.

Scientists from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA-France) – the National Institute of Agricultural Research – wrote in the August 2014 open-access journal PLOS ONE, that there are more than 900 species of wild bees in France. It also stated that many were in decline, and hence they conducted their first comprehensive study in Europe to evaluate the impact of urbanization on the wild bee community in collaboration with the naturalist association Arthropologia. They found a considerable number of bee species in urban areas, and that they were actually more productive than their country cousins.

But Paris dwellers have a fondness for bees and honey and in preserving this special insect.

In the Luxembourg Garden – Jardin du Luxembourg– there has been a beekeeping school, an apiary school, since 1856, where it remains today. Henri Louis Hamet (1815-1889) founded the beekeeping school as part of the Central Agriculture Society. He was given a plot of land in the Luxembourg Garden to house 20 bee colonies. It was damaged in 1866 during Baron Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris, destroying houses and streets to reconstruct new ones, but it was restored in 1872. Henri Hamet became known as the father of French beekeeping.

The wooden bee boxes can be seen near the fruit orchard in the Luxembourg Garden, and often the beekeepers themselves in their white netted uniforms, but it is fenced for protection, with signs not to walk on the grass. However, the bees have moved to modern bee boxes nearby that have copper tops. Its honey production is sold during the annual Honey and Bee Festival around Paris.

By the early 1990s in Paris, there were more than 1,000 bee hives until the Second World War (1939-1945). Paris now has about 400 hives, but beekeeping is a growing trend, with people establishing bee boxes on their roof or balcony. The hives must be registered and be more than 25 metres (80 feet) from a school or hospital.

In 2015, the Paris Opera established five bee hives – each with 50,000 bees – on the roof of the Palais Garnier, which are maintained by professional beekeepers. In 2016, it established an additional five bee hives on the terraces of the Opera Bastille. Paris Opera sells its honey production at Fauchon. Hotels and restaurants are also establishing their bee hives for their own use.

Why are there so many bees in Paris apart from the additional bee boxes? One reason is that in the early 2000s, Paris has been officially pesticide-free. Another reason is the occurrence of flowers all year round, again on people’s balconies as well as in parks and gardens. Yet another reason is that many Paris streets have Sophora trees – not native to the region – which blossom in August and attract bees. 

France is one of Europe’s main countries for the honey industry. Even 2020, with the Coronavirus pandemic, has not deterred the French honey production. In June 2020, vice-president of the beekeeping federation in Lille, Jean-Luc Debaisieux, said the spring honey production was three times better than usual due to the warm conditions. He described halfway into 2020 as ‘an exceptional year.’

In fact, Coronavirus confinement, restrictions, and lockdown have favoured the honey bee. The environment has been described as ‘calm’ in the meadows and embankments, increasing the bees’ pollen collection. And with people gardening more during the lockdown, planting flowers and vegetables, the bees have had more attractions to visit – quite unlike human species who have stayed away from tourist attractions. 

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