Bees in Newcastle

Newcastle has been named the greenest city in Britain by topping the annual Forum for the Future Sustainable Cities Index for the second year running. The accolade rewards the strides the city council has taken to improve energy efficiency, recycling, waste management levels and increase the use of electric vehicles with nearly 600 charging points. Yet the headlines about Newcastle’s triumph focused on its bee strategy.  Bees help keep Newcastle at top of green city table said the Guardian.

I visited the North East last month at the invitation of the council-led bee steering group to witness a range of initiatives being implemented to make Newcastle the most bee-friendly city in the UK. The strategy was launched earlier this year following a motion put to the council by Cllr Doreen Huddar who was greatly concerned about the decline in bee populations. In just a few months, a group including allotment holders, beekeepers, council workers and university researchers have been able to do a number of things to help bees from planting more bee-friendly plants (getting rid of those useless double headed varieties) in munipical flower beds and reducing the use of residual herbicide in footpaths to changing the terms of reference on allotments to allow bee hives and working with a city farm to establish a central venue for beekeeper training. It has also provided 20 bumble bee homes for sites across the city, is working with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and local beekeepers to get bee material and hives into schools, and has two council-sponsored hives. And there are also “Love our bees!” leaflets and posters in municipal buildings with tips for how residents can help bees.

More information about the strategy and a comprehensive list of bee-friendly plants are at www.newcastle.gov.uk/bees.

Further good news is that Nottingham and Bristol council are taking an interest in Newcastle’s approach, and the project leaders will be spreading the word next month at the EuroCities conference in Zaragoza, Spain.

I was certainly impressed at the speed with which Newcastle’s bee strategy was being driven through, the partners involved and the good will on all sides. Even a council director admitted that  he was surprised at its rapid progress.

“Councils are renowed for being slow and bureaucratic. This is the exception. They just got on with it,” he said proudly. “Within an hour of the first meeting staff were saying ‘crickey we’re growing the wrong flowers’”.

Special praise must go to Joe Timothy and Russell Nelson, two young council employees who as members of its innovation forum have led the project from the start. They knew nothing about bees, but are now known as the bee boys. But without an elected councillor none of this would have happened.  So let’s hope other councillors follow Doreen’s example and get their councils to act as bee champions.

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