Could some of the keys to saving the bees be a pollinator passage, urban beehives and a ‘beebus’? I sat down with Tora Fougner-Økland from ByBi, an environmental beekeeping organisation working towards a pollinator-friendly Oslo.
By: Evert Whitehouse
Photos: Tora Fougner-Økland, Ragna Riebe Jørgensen, Marie Skjelbred
Evert: What is Bybi?
– Tora: Bybi is so much all at once: it started as a beekeeping organization for people who keep bees in the city. However, from the start it was as much an activist group as it was an agricultural group. ByBi aims to inspire people to work for greener cities and make the world outside the cities greener. We do informative work, such as saying what sort of flowers people should plant to help the bees. We also really like the idea of bringing biodiversity to people, by letting people taste biodiversity via our honeys and by creating biodiversity in the city.
Do you feel it makes a difference? What have been some of your successes?
– I definitely think so. One of the most important things ByBi achieves is to create a closer connection between people and the way they see nature and the world around them. As soon as someone becomes a beekeeper, they start seeing dandelions as food, not weeds. Similarly, a pile of dead leaves is no longer rubbish to be cleared away, but a valuable habitat for possibly endangered insects. I feel one of the advantages we have is that honeybees are very charismatic. They’re easy to love, unlike other insects which people can be squeamish about. It’s easy for people to become enthusiastic and want to help bees. Another contributing factor is that ByBi is involved in a lot of different forums. The fact that the cemeteries in Oslo have all sorts of natural flowers to create habitats for bees is a prime example of ByBi’s diverse approach. ByBi’s enthusiasm leads to cooperation with many different entities such as Statens Vegvesen and the Oslo municipality.
|Plant these – help the bees! |
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Do you feel you have most impact through your projects or through your informative work?
– I think that without the project work, our informative work would lose its value. We wouldn’t be as credible. It makes you more believable when you can show people insect hotels or beehives on rooftops. The research we do is also important: We were part of a study to analyse the competition between honeybees and native insects in Oslo. Sharing the study’s results has been a good way to illustrate the dangers posed by the lack of honeybees and biodiversity as a whole. ByBi harmonises the practical part and the informative part by telling people to go out and do stuff, while also doing it ourselves.
Is there any way for people to get involved?
– We’re always offering courses for new beekeepers. A fun way for people to start up is as a group. I recommend they go to a beekeeping course and see if it’s something they want to try. When it comes to students, we see a lot of enthusiasm for beekeeping throughout the year, which suddenly disappears right before exam times. Maybe for students the top priority shouldn’t be to have your own bees, it’s more practical volunteering with ByBi which includes anything from helping to keep bees to designing insect hotels. Personally, one of the best things that I know is to work at stands at festivals and just talk: Spreading the gospel of bees is really important. There are lots of other fun ways to get involved with bees besides beekeeping is what I’m saying.
What are some of your more notable projects?
– Something that is really exciting is that ByBi is a partner for the Oslo European Green Capital this year. One of the plans is to make a ‘beebus’, (a bus painted as a bee). It will take international visitors around Oslo to see the work ByBi has been doing and how the Oslo municipality has been working to integrate pollinator friendly projects. Our most notable project is the ‘pollinator passage’, which made headlines around the world in 2015. The passage is a project to create a hospitable path through Oslo for pollinators, by planting nectar-rich flowers throughout the city.
What is the ultimate goal for ByBi, to create a habitat for bees in Oslo, an overall greener city, or something else?
– That depends on who you ask. That’s what makes ByBi so nice, it has space for everyone’s ideas! Overall, what ByBi really wants to achieve is not just a pollinator-friendly country, but a well-functioning ecosystem around us and a sustainable way of living for everyone.
What are the benefits of saving honeybees?
– A third of the food that we eat is absolutely dependent on pollinators, and that number rises to 2/3rds of our food if you count the crops used for feeding livestock. A lot of your favourite foods are dependent on insect pollination, such as strawberries, apples, almonds and more. Bees make the world a sweeter place because of all of the honey they produce, if you’re a person who likes honey. In the long run, the world would be a very drab place without bees, because the flowers wouldn’t bother trying to attract honeybees with their beautiful hues. You should care about insects if you like birds and birdsong, as birds are dependent on insects.
Are there steps we can all take to help the bees?
– The first one is to stop cutting your lawn so frequently, let the dandelions blossom! If you don’t have a lawn yourself, advocate to those who do. Make the world around you a more blossoming place. Think about where your food comes from. Buy a few more organic things, foods that are grown in a more sustainable way. Hang an insect hotel on your balcony or in your garden. If you see a hungry bumblebee queen give her some sugar syrup. Learn the difference between a wasp and a honeybee! There are many things you can do, and every bit helps.
On the topic of environmental efforts, how do you feel about individual efforts vis-à-vis state efforts in environmental matters; do you feel private efforts are enough?
– No. This is a hot debate, with the ongoing climate strikes and the general climate change debates. Working with pollinating insects is a very concrete example of this issue. Sure, we can all plant a couple of flowers, put up insect hotels or become beekeepers, but in the long run that won’t save insects outside our cities. We need the big land-managing actors to get involved, which more often than not are state-owned actors like Statsbygg. Because if we are to conserve big areas in a pollinator-friendly way, we need governments to get involved. Individual efforts certainly help, but my back garden is nothing compared to the big almond orchards in California or the massive meadow where the next Ikea will be built. By showing people the importance of bees, I hope we can eventually achieve a difference at the higher levels of government.