Bees give working day a real buzz

THE office of Henri Meynadier, a communications company boss in Paris, is literally a hive of activity these days: alongside the usual assortment of junior executives are up to 80,000 bees.

Mr Meynadier, the first Parisian to keep bees inside his office, is at the forefront of a new trend in France, where urban beekeeping is becoming an increasingly popular hobby.

The growing enthusiasm for apiculture coincides with the release of a new study by the French beekeepers' association showing that bees reared in cities are healthier and more productive than their country cousins.

"In town, the bees go out more," said apiarist Jean Paucton, a former stage props man who for the past 25 years has tended five hives on the roof of the Paris Opera, producing up to 220lb of honey per hive each year - about five times what rural beekeepers hope for.

According to the study by the National Association of French Beekeepers (UNAF), this is because city-dwelling bees enjoy higher temperatures and access to a wider variety of plant life for pollination while avoiding the deadly effects of pesticides widely used in agriculture.

For those who are turned off by the idea of eating Mr Meynadier's or Mr Paucton's honey after a mere sniff of Parisian air, the good news is that bees can filter out city pollution, including exhaust fumes.

Tests of Parisian honey have declared it to be safe, even finding fewer traces of lead and other dangerous substances than in some rurally produced honeys.

Mr Paucton's pale golden "Opera Honey", which is sold in the Opera foyer and at Fauchon's, the most exclusive luxury grocer in Paris, is so prized by gourmets that he cannot meet demand, even though it is priced ten times higher than standard honey.

Mr Meynadier, 58, the head of Anatome, carried out his first harvest on 22 November, an impressive 83lb of thick, creamy-pale honey from his single hive.

The delighted executive says none of his employees have been stung by the bees, which come and go as they wish via a tube.

This allows them to collect pollen from the chestnut trees which line the Grands Boulevards, the acacias in Place de la Republique, the gardens along Boulevard Richard Lenoir, or the wide variety of trees and plants in Pre Lachaise cemetery, 300 yards as the bee flies from Mr Meynadier's office in the city's 11th arrondissement.

Henri Clment, the president of UNAF and a beekeeper from the Cevennes in southern France, uses Mr Meynadier's hive to illustrate his point that everyone can make their own honey.

No laws restrict the installation of bee hives in France, so everyone is free to place their hive where they wish: on a rooftop, a balcony, in a courtyard or even, as in Mr Meynadier's case, in their office, as long as the bees have an exit route.

Mr Paucton estimates there are at least two dozen fellow apiarists tending bees on balconies, roofs, parks and gardens around the French capital and UNAF has launched a campaign to attract more urban beekeepers to Paris and other cities.

Beekeeping is strongly associated with French history.

Napoleon Bonaparte so admired bees - because they work in an orderly and selfless fashion for the benefit of an undisputed leader - that he made them a symbol of his reign.

What he, and everyone else at the time, failed to realise was that what they mistakenly took for a dominant male king was in fact a queen.

Back to the top of the page