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Paris penthouses for busy bees

Published on 31/01/2010

Paris -- Strange as it may seem, bees get a better buzz from the urban Paris jungle than from the countryside.

There are all sorts of flowers only short flights away, and little risk of death by pesticide.

But the bee’s knees are the penthouse hives atop some of the city’s best and historically prestigious monuments — the spectacular steel and glass domed Grand Palais exhibition hall by the banks of the Seine, for instance.

"Honeybees are happy in town, they have everything they need," said Grand Palais director Sebastien de Gasquet.

Collecting pollen and nectar is no sweat with the Tuileries gardens lying only a short distance away, "not to mention the Grand Palais’ own flowerbeds,” he said.

The two beehives set on the edge of the building’s huge glass dome last May are rooms with a view of the Eiffel tower and Notre-Dame cathedral. Three or four extra hives are to be added to bring production up to half a ton of honey a year.

City bees, said Nicolas Geant, the beekeeper behind the Grand Palais scheme, nowadays produce four to five times more honey than their country cousins.

"In agricultural areas you can produce around 10 to 20 kilogrammes of honey per year per hive while in cities you can get between 80 and 100 kilogrammes," he said.

And his idea of placing beehives at the Grand Palais — Paris’ Garnier Opera house has had its own beehives for years — is aimed at denouncing that very paradox.

In rural areas close to farms, there are less and less hedges, trees and flowers. But in the city "there are a myriad of small flowers in parks and on balconies, as well as a wide variety of trees along streets and in public gardens — acacia, lime and chestnut trees — that are nectar to the bees."

While Paris is polluted, notably from car exhaust, "this bears no comparison with agricultural areas where pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers kill massive numbers of bees," he said.

France’s Union of Apiarists (UNAF) has signalled high mortality rates near corn, sunflower and rapeseed fields, while bee deaths across Europe have been 30 to 35 percent higher than average since the 1980s thanks to a number of factors, including the use pf pesticides.

"There are practically no pesticides in the city," said Jean Lacube, the beekeeper in charge of eight hives at another Paris building in the city’s chic 7th district.

City bees also thrive in a town’s more temperate climate, he added, and are safe from attacks by the deadly Asian hornet that has decimated bees in the southwest part of France in the last years.

There are some 300 beehives in Paris, Lacube said.

"But beekeeping in a city is a luxury," he added. "Beekeeping should be in the countryside, the future is not in the cities."

Emmanuel Angleys/AFP/Expatica