The Buzz on Urban Pollinators


By SCA Community Engagement Fellow Kevin Borja

Networking app Bumble and comedian-writer Samantha Bee aren’t the only bees a-buzzing amongst urban dwellers these days.

Beekeeping and other forms of pollinator work are becoming increasingly popular hobbies in cities such as Los Angeles and New York, thanks to a recent lifting of restrictions in response to the rapid decline of pollinator populations and climate change.

In New York City alone, residents and agencies have now registered over 300 beehives since the legalization of beekeeping in 2010, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As large as their populations are growing in cities, you may not notice our fuzzy friends flying about as often as you would think. Birds might as well be native New Yorkers, but bees and butterflies are as rare a sight as traffic-free 6th Avenue.

I, myself, hadn’t seen any bees in New York until I started working with a colony of Western Honeybees (Apis mellifera) on the rooftop of the three-story Parks and Recreation 5-Boro building out on Randall’s Island.  Even higher than that, about 300 thousand bees currently reside on the 20th-floor roof of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, pictured above. It appears, then, that we aren’t seeing them because they’re being treated to penthouse access and unparalleled skyline views.

But even with their prime real estate, the duties of an urban pollinator are much like that of their countryside cousin. As their moniker suggests, pollinators help carry a plant’s pollen granules from plant to plant to help them fertilize. Pollinators like bees are essential to the survival of green spaces in cities.

Our bees at Parks and Rec assisted with the propagation of plants within our green roof systems and in the surrounding neighborhoods of Astoria, Mott Haven, and East Harlem. These plant-based roof layers that reduced our HVAC operation costs, and extended the life of the building’s structure by several decades, depended on these bees for survival. 

The relationship between pollinators and green spaces is symbiotic, especially in an urban setting. It’s difficult for pollinators to fly long distances. Like us humans, they get fatigued after working a lot. During their work days, pollinators will help themselves to a little rest and relaxation if they can find the right space. So by building green roofs across the city, I was helping to increase the number of habitats in which these bees and other pollinators could rest and continue their efforts.

Similarly, SCA supports various pollinator habitat restoration programs across the US. In my home state of California, our Bay Area Conservation Crews are working in San Francisco in partnership with the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department in 38 community gardens and one urban farm to help sustain the pollinator population out west. Here’s a quick video about our Bay Area Urban Program!

Habitat restoration work is valuable to urban areas that have mostly redefined the ecosystem with artificial surfaces and objects. But it doesn’t take too much to help restore them — it can be as easy as throwing native seed balls to grow plants that attract pollinators or installing planter boxes in the windows of your apartment. (Sidebar: please install these correctly. Getting hit in the head with a planter box isn’t fun.)  Better yet, if you have the space, SCA Monarch Butterfly Intern Leah Hawthorn has developed a free guide that teaches anyone how to start and maintain a pollinator-friendly garden!

You can learn how you can help no matter where you are. I just so happened to have learned more about pollinators in one of the most urbanized areas of the world than I ever did back in my suburban hometown.

If you want to get started with pollinator habitat restoration efforts right away, you can help volunteer alongside Nestlé employees in Los Angeles, New York City, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, on Thursday, August 10th as part of the #NestleCares National Day of Volunteering. Across the US, in cities and in backwoods, we are running projects that directly affect pollinator populations. They’ll range from removing invasive plants that hinder the growth of native plants that attract pollinators, to helping to restore trails that wind along pollinator habitats.

But like bees, there are many small, but strong organizations across the United States that support pollinator habitat restoration, offer beekeeping education and training, and organize meetups. In almost no time at all, you’ll get to know droves of people who are willing to help this great cause.

I guess swiping on Bumble and going to Samantha Bee stand-up shows aren’t the only ways to meet new people after all.

Click here to learn more about the #NestléCares events

Student Conservation Association
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