Paris’s ur­ban rooftop hives hope to pre­serve hon­ey­bees

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

To check the bee­hives he has set up on the roof of the sprawl­ing Monnaie de Paris on the banks of the River Seine, Au­dric de Cam­peau slips on a har­ness over tan-col­ored trousers. The bee­keeper then hooks his leg har­ness to a metal cable an­chored to the roof’s edge, run­ning the length of the en­tire struc­ture. “It’s not dan­ger­ous, but my in­sur­ance in­sists on it,” he says. El­e­gantly dressed in a tweed jacket, pink shirt and straw hat cus­tom­ized with a pro­tec­tive net, he steps care­fully be­tween the rafters to reach the three bee­hives he set on the flat side of the roof.

From there, the 34-year-old will head to the roof of the neigh­bor­ing In­sti­tut de France, an­other his­toric build­ing with a ma­jes­tic domed cen­tre. He will don the same leg har­ness on the rooftop of the Boucheron fine jew­elry bou­tique over­look­ing the Place Ven­dome square, on the other side of the Seine, be­fore mak­ing his way to his three bee­hives. In the dis­tance, the Eif­fel Tower rises far above the slanted Parisian rooftops.

“I’m lucky, my of­fice is in the sky,” he says, smil­ing, adding that he does have “to climb a lot of stairs”. De Cam­peau is an ur­ban bee­keeper, and his bee­hives sit atop mon­u­ments and of­fice build­ings and on rooftop ter­races. The French cap­i­tal boasts more than 700 bee­hives, ac­cord­ing to 2015 fig­ures, most lo­cated on rooftops such as those of the haute cui­sine Tour d’Ar­gent restau­rant, the Grand Palais and the Musee d’Or­say. More and more com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing AFP, are also adding bee­hives to the tops of their of­fice build­ings. Bee­hives have long sat on the roof of the Paris Opera, and the Lux­em­bourg Gar­dens has had bee­hives since 1856.

Wor­ry­ing bee de­cline

Ur­ban rooftops are one of the ways the city is fight­ing against the “wor­ry­ing” de­cline in the bee pop­u­la­tion, a trend France rec­og­nized early on de­spite its el­e­vated use of pes­ti­cides. The coun­try is one of Europe’s lead­ing users of pes­ti­cides. The more pes­ti­cides are used, the more pests de­velop re­sis­tance to them, which leads to even more in­ten­sive use of pes­ti­cides. Bees around the world-es­pe­cially in Europe and North Amer­ica-have been dec­i­mated in re­cent years by a mys­te­ri­ous blight called “colony col­lapse dis­or­der”, in which en­tire pop­u­la­tions dis­ap­pear or die out.

Re­search has pointed an ac­cus­ing fin­ger at agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides, viruses, fungi, par­a­sites, poor weather, mal­nu­tri­tion be­cause of fewer flow­ers-or some com­bi­na­tion of the above. Ac­cord­ing to the EU eco­nomic and so­cial ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee (EESC), “nearly half of wild bee species have dis­ap­peared in just 30 years”. But more than just the sur­vival of the bees is at stake. Sci­en­tists have cal­cu­lated that 1.4 bil­lion jobs, and three-quar­ters of crops, de­pend on pol­li­na­tors, mainly bees. All told, there are some 20,000 bee species that fer­til­ize more than 90 per­cent of the world’s 107 ma­jor crops.

At the same time, the United Na­tions es­ti­mates that 40 per­cent of in­ver­te­brate pol­li­na­tors-mostly bees and but­ter­flies-are at risk of ex­tinc­tion. In an ef­fort to de­fend the bee, the north­ern French city of Lille be­gan pro­vid­ing pes­ti­cide-free en­vi­ron­ments in 2007. The south­ern city of Mont­pel­lier soon fol­lowed by in­stalling bee­hives on the roofs of many high schools. Though ex­perts say it may not solve the prob­lem, Lille’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices said 80 species of wild bees that had dis­ap­peared from the area have re­turned since be­gin­ning the pro­gram.

Liq­uid gold

De Cam­peau sees his mis­sion as twofold: take care of the health of his bees while also pro­duc­ing what he calls “liq­uid gold” for his com­pany, “Le Miel de Paris” (Paris Honey). De­pend­ing on the agree­ment he has with build­ing own­ers, ei­ther he sells the honey or they use it. At the Monnaie de Paris, chef Guy Savoy uses de Cam­peau’s honey in his restau­rant desserts. He sells his home­made honey in 200ml bot­tles for 34.90 euros ($41).

As well as honey, de Cam­peau also makes mead-an an­cient al­co­holic honey-based drink-in oak bar­rels once used for wine or sherry that are stored in a se­cret cel­lar 30 me­ters un­der­ground.

For a man who spent his youth il­le­gally ex­plor­ing the un­der­ground Cat­a­combs of Paris, de Cam­peau feels right at home. “Sta­ble tem­per­a­ture, high hu­mid­ity, per­fect to pre­vent evap­o­ra­tion, and zero vi­bra­tion,” de Cam­peau said, adding that these fac­tors are es­sen­tial for rais­ing a blend “wor­thy of a great vin­tage”. — AFP

PARIS: This file pho­to­graph shows French bee­keeper Au­dric de Cam­peau as he checks bee­hives set on the roof of the Monnaie de Paris in Paris, with NotreDame Cathe­dral in the back­ground. — AFP

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