Lattice fence and hedge barriers around an apiary increase honey bee flight height and decrease stings to people nearby
Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L W Ratnieks
Urban beekeeping is becoming more popular in the UK. One of the challenges faced by urban beekeepers is finding a suitable apiary location. Honey bees are often perceived as a nuisance, mainly due to their stinging behaviour. Here, we experimentally test the assumption that barriers around an apiary such as walls or fences, force the bees to fly above human height, thereby reducing collisions with people and, consequently, stinging. The experiment was conducted in two apiaries using two common types of barrier: a lattice fence (trellis) and hedge. Barriers were 2 m high, which is taller than > 99% of humans and is also the maximum height allowed by UK planning regulations for garden fences or walls. We found that barriers were effective at both raising the mean honey bee flight height and reducing stinging. However, the effects were only seen when the barrier had been in place for a few days, not immediately after the barrier was put in place. Although this raises interesting questions regarding honey bee navigation and memory, it is not a problem for beekeepers, as any barrier placed around an apiary will be permanent. The effect of the barriers on raising bee flight height to a mean of c. 2.2-2.5 m was somewhat weak and inconsistent, probably because the bees flew high, mean of c. 1.6-2.0 m, even in the absence of a barrier. As barriers can also reduce wind exposure, improve security and are inexpensive, we recommend their use around urban apiaries in places such as private gardens or allotments, where nuisance to humans is likely to be a problem.