Despite its recent battering, the London Stock Exchange will next month take on thousands of new workers. The new recruits, however, are not traders, but worker bees, as the LSE becomes the latest business to install hives on its premises.
Xavier Rolet, LSE chief executive, is enthusiastic about the project.
He keeps bees at his family’s home, in a converted medieval priory in Provence. When the LSE takes delivery of its two hives, housing 100,000 bees in the heart of London, it will be helping to maintain a fragile and dwindling population.
In recent years concern has grown over declining numbers of honey bees in North America and Europe. Earlier this year, the International Bee Research Association found that U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 42 per cent of their colonies during the past winter. Losses in the three previous winters ranged from 29 per cent to 36 per cent. Beekeepers generally regard a loss of about 15 per cent as acceptable.
According to the London Beekeepers Association, “urban bees have a wide range of forage, as the gardens and green spaces in cities contain a rich variety of trees and flowers. This, and the slightly milder weather, means that the beekeeping season is longer and usually more productive than in rural areas.”
Concern over declining bee numbers has led to an increase in part-time beekeepers, or apiarists. And companies are showing greater interest in housing beehives.
When part-time apiarist Robin Leigh-Pemberton was governor of the Bank of England between 1983 and 1993, the bank played host to bee colonies. Vince Cable, the U.K. business secretary, is a beekeeping enthusiast who has spearheaded campaigns to raise funding for bee research.
The LSE hopes that its employees will play a role in the bees’ upkeep; the stock exchange will be providing beekeeping suits for staff. It will also be using some of the honey produced by the bees to offer as corporate gifts.
Nomura, the Japanese investment bank, has two hives at the top of its building, home to two roof gardens, overlooking the river Thames. It is part of a project with The Golden Company, a social enterprise that runs business skills training programs for young people. Golden Company members will harvest Nomura’s honey and then raise money by selling it to the bank.
For the bank, the project provides an opportunity to establish its environmental credentials, and so “give something back to the city”, says Dominic Cashman, the managing director, chief administrative office, Emea.
Martin Farrington, the head of IT and digital services at The Future Laboratory, a market research consultancy, was funded by his company to attend a beekeeping course. “It’s an extra perk, like gym membership. I can’t wait to come to work now, it provides a different incentive to money.”
Dave Geer, managing director of Warren Evans, a bed retailer, acquired two hives for the back of the company’s workshop in Walthamstow, north-east London. “I wanted something for the warehouse [employees]to interest them other than work. I want to have things that are a bit fun and not just about work,” he says.
Mr. Geer says beekeeping is a good way to combat stress. “It’s relaxing. You have to move slowly and think carefully and be absorbed in what’s going on in order not to disturb the bees. Quite a few people have told me they find it absorbing and interesting.”
The company has consulted staff on the project: “There are a couple of people who’ve been stung badly as children and don’t want to get involved.” That said, a number of employees who used to lurk at the back when the bee hives were opened have become intrigued and since moved to the front, he says.
“It gives people something to talk about. We won’t sell any beds on the back of the beehive. Though I did have a planning officer round [to approve an extension]who took quite an interest in the bees - maybe our hive helped?”