The dwindling bee population over the last decade has slowly become a matter of concern, prompting conservation efforts across different cities around the world, even in Delhi.
As part of the efforts, apiaries have sprung up on the outskirts of the Capital over the last few years and weekly workshops on how to develop and protect bee habitats are also being held at Sunder Nursery every Sunday. Experts feel Delhi’s seven biodiversity parks and green spaces like Lodhi Garden, filled with flowering plants, water bodies and presence of certain tree species ideal habitat for bees to build hives, too have turned into a refuge for bees.
To push apiculture as a livelihood option, in 2018, Qutubgarh in northwest Delhi, a quaint village covered in fields of mustard, was adopted by the Khadi Village Industries Commission (KVIC) along with Union minister Meenakshi Lekhi, springing a honey revolution of sorts after villagers were gifted over 100 bee boxes and provided training on bee-keeping.
Four years on, the neighbouring villages of Jatkhore, Jaunti, Katewara and Daryapur Kalan are also bee-keeping hubs now, with the next generation being taught the art of producing honey from bee boxes. Locals said the number of boxes has risen to over 250 (each holding up to 50,000 bees) in the five villages.
At Sunder Nursery, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has set up 12 bee boxes along with Golden Hive Foundation.
Ratish Nanda, CEO of AKTC said the idea arose from the need to not only protect these bees, but to spread awareness on their significance to the ecosystem around us. “Bees play a crucial role in pollination and eventually food creation. The idea is to educate people on how to develop habitats for bees and to protect them, for which workshops are held frequently. The plan is to eventually create a dedicated space for bees with signages and display centres where the bee boxes will be kept in the centre. It will be in an exhibition format and people can visually learn more about the different types of bees and also see them up close,” said Nanda, adding that at least seven-eight large hives have come up naturally in the area.
Experts said the bee conservation programme at Sunder Nursery, which began in 2019, is not only to limited to the protection of honey bees, but solitary bees as well.
Rakesh Gupta from the Golden Hive Foundation, which holds the weekly workshops, said they have also set up “bee hotels” — to facilitate nesting by solitary bees — are also present at the Sunder Nursery to educate the general public about the different species of bees. “These hotels are ideal for solitary bees, for which there are several species too. There are bees which do not produce honey, and there are stingless bees too. People are made aware about all of these species and why each one is important,” he said.
At present, four known species of honey bees are found in Delhi, which includes the rock bee (apis dorsata), the Indian hive bee (apis cerana indica), the little bee (apis florea) and the European or Italian bee (apis mellifera). While the rock bee is a winter visitor from the Himalayas, the other three are found throughout the year, thriving in wooden habitats and, at times, tall buildings and the monuments of Delhi.
Faiyaz Khudsar, scientist in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP) in north Delhi, said excessive use of pesticides, loss of natural habitats due to urbanisation and the climate crisis has led to a decline in the global bee population. However, he said, the Delhi’s seven biodiversity parks – Aravalli, Yamuna, Neela Hauz, Tilpath Valley, Kalindi Kunj, Kamla Nehru Ridge and Tughlakabad biodiversity park — with over 1,000 plant species and trees such as siras, mahua, palash, khirni, amaltas, khejri, rohida bel, sehjan, ronj and peelu providing flowers throughout the year, are emerging as a safe haven for bees.
“While apis cerana indica and apis florea are native bees, apis mellifera is an exotic one introduced in 1983 from Italy for the purpose of commercial apiculture, just like the Jersey Cow was introduced (to increase milk production). All three resident honey bee species generally forage daily up to two kilometres from their nest colony and require muddy or swampy water pools, along with flowering or nectar bearing plants in the vicinity. While such habitats have shrunk across Delhi, there are 2,500 acres of ideal space across the seven Delhi biodiversity parks now and all four honey bee species have been recorded here,” said Khudsar.
A similar strategy is in place across other green spaces in Delhi, with the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) also planting flowering species which can sustain bees throughout the year. “Most NDMC locations have flowering plants which ensure pollination can take place throughout the year, while also providing adequate nectar for bees. Flowers such as the sweet pea have been particularly found to be useful in attracting bees,” said a senior NDMC official from the horticulture department, stating that Lodhi Garden is among the best locations to spot different bee species. “We are now starting to see flowers begin to bloom… February and March are great periods to spot bees across all NDMC locations. The trees there also make great locations for hives,” the official said.
Industrialisation poses a threat
Back in southwest Delhi’s Qutubgarh village, which has turned into a centre of apiculture, a looming threat of industrialisation now stands across the border in the form of the IMT Kharkhoda industrial area in Haryana.
“We have certainly seen a revolution of sorts in the area and the next generation is now learning the art of bee-keeping. So far, over 1,500 kgs of honey has been produced by these villages alone and the bee count has multiplied manifold, but with development and industrialisation comes a reduction in the farm area where these bees can fetch nectar. The pollution from these industries may also significantly impact bee population once again in the coming years,” said Dinesh Rana, a local bee-keeper, urging for more such bee-havens to be created across Delhi.
A Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) official, on the condition of anonymity, said industries operating in Kharkhoda will be regularly checked for pollution-related norms. “The area has been set up away from urban settlements and each industry being set up will be checked for water and air-related norms among others. Only then will they be allowed to function,” said the official.