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City mandates 'bee bricks' for new buildings to help thousands of solitary bees

'We're putting a habitat into each building in the same way that has occurred naturally for hundreds of years,' said Faye Clifton of Green&Blue, a company that manufactures bee bricks.

City mandates 'bee bricks' for new buildings to help thousands of solitary bees
Cover Image Source: Green&Blue

The city of Brighton and Hove in England this week introduced a new planning law that requires developers to install special bricks that provide nests for solitary bees. According to Dezeen, Brighton & Hove Council's new policy applies to all new buildings taller than five meters. Bee Bricks are essentially the same size as regular bricks but feature a series of narrow holes to allow tubes for nesting bees. The measure aims to increase opportunities for biodiversity as solitary bees make up nearly 250 of the approximately 270 bee species in Britain and play an important role in the natural ecosystem.


"Bee bricks are just one of quite a number of measures that really should be in place to address biodiversity concerns that have arisen through years of neglect of the natural environment," said Robert Nemeth, the councilor behind the initiative. "Increased planting, hedgehog holes, swift boxes and bird feeders are all examples of other cheap and simple ideas that, together, could lead to easy medium-term gains." Nemeth reportedly first proposed the move in 2019 and the requirement has already been included in planning permissions granted by the Brighton & Hove Council since April 2020.


Faye Clifton of Green&Blue, a company that manufactures bee bricks, explained that the innovative nesting site is based on an existing type of nest that is popular with solitary bees. However, with modern construction featuring great precision, these natural nests are becoming increasingly rare. "Solitary bees nest in crumbling mortar work and old brickwork," she said, "but modern buildings are so perfect that all the cavities are blocked. We're putting a habitat into each building in the same way that has occurred naturally for hundreds of years. If these weren't put in, it would just be a closed wall. That's hundreds and hundreds of miles of land gone to any kind of biodiversity."


Meanwhile, some scientists believe the initiative could do more harm than good. Dave Goulson—a professor of biology at the University of Sussex—told The Guardian that when he tested a bee brick, he found that the holes were not deep enough to be "ideal homes for bees." While he agreed that they "are probably better than nothing," Goulson added: "Bee bricks seem like a displacement activity to me. We are kidding ourselves if we think having one of these in every house is going to make any real difference for biodiversity. Far more substantial action is needed, and these bricks could easily be used as 'greenwash' by developers."


Adam Hart, an entomologist and professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, also expressed doubts that sometimes "well-meaning interventions can have unwanted consequences." Hart believes a lot more research is needed on "these 'bee hotels' so bees can get the maximum benefit from people's desire to help them." However, Francis Gilbert, a professor of ecology at the University of Nottingham, does not share the opinion that bee bricks are a bad idea. Waving aside concerns that they could have a negative impact if they were too big and not cleaned enough, he said that bee bricks did not need to be cleaned.


"The mites will leave after one to two seasons and then the bees will recolonize," Gilbert said. "There will be beneficial microbes in the holes as well, so they should not be cleaned. So bee bricks are an unequivocally good thing." Lars Chittka, a professor in sensory and behavioral ecology at Queen Mary University, said that bees "naturally possess hygienic behavior that would allow them to mitigate the risks at least to some extent, or that they would assess the holes' states before using them, which should to some extent counterbalance the risks that come with such long-term nesting opportunities."

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