For best experience please turn on javascript and use a modern browser!

While Amsterdam suffered through this summer’s scorching temperatures, fifteen thousand new inhabitants took up residence on the green roof of the Roeterseiland Campus.

Facility Services, with the help of town beekeeper Jonathan Berg, installed a beehive and colony on the low-slung roof of REC BC (across from CREA). The bees are reportedly quite content there - out of the wind and facing the morning sun. How did the idea of introducing bees to the campus come about?

Bees have figured prominently in the news over the last several years, which can only be considered a positive development considering that, in general, things are not going well for insects. Studies show that three-quarters of the insect population has vanished since 1989, and that honey bees are having a tough time of it as well. The insects are crucial to the pollination of flowers and other plants. Our food supply is in fact dependent on the ability of these creatures to zoom about.

In the hope of creating a bee-friendly environment, and to raise awareness of apian health, it was decided this spring that the Roeterseiland Campus would be a great spot for a beehive. The UvA ordered one and had it painted a pleasing colour selected in consultation with the beekeeper. The beekeeper, whose hives are in the north of Amsterdam, then bred a new colony. Filling the hive is quite a job, which is carried out as follows.

When a frame with bees and larvae is taken from the colony and put into an empty hive, the bees quickly notice that the queen’s scent is missing (or actually, her pheromones). The bees then create new queens by feeding several (female) larvae with royal jelly. After 13 days, new queens are born, only one of which will survive to make its nuptial flight, during which it gets fertilised and after which it lays eggs, allowing the colony to increase to the point of independent viability.

The colony then needs to be moved to its new location. To move bees within city limits, they first need to be moved farther away since honey bees have a flight range of three kilometres. If they are moved less than 6 kilometres from their previous abode, they in fact find themselves in familiar surroundings and proceed to fly back to the old location. That’s why the bees were kept in the garden of an alumnus of the UvA in the town of Naarden for the first two months. Since worker bees have a six-week life span, no bees familiar with the old Amsterdam stomping grounds were alive by the time of the removal to the final destination on the Roeterseiland, where the colony has now been for six weeks.

Contrary to what many people think, introducing bees in an urban environment does very little for the health of bees in general. In the Netherlands, honey bees aren’t doing too shabbily – it’s the wild bees that are having problems. The more honey bees introduced in town, the less nectar available for wild bees and other insects. That’s why the bee population on the Roeterseiland is being kept low – the focus is instead on increasing awareness of apian health.

Facility Services will investigate whether there are sufficient nectar-producing plants on the roofs and the rest of the terrain and whether additional flowering plants can be introduced on the REC for the benefit of wild bees seeking nectar, as well. Scientific research (Brenneisen 2005; Kratchmer et al. 2018) shows that urban green roofs up to eight storeys high can, with the right vegetation, create a proper environment for wild bees threatened with extinction, certainly if there is enough planting variety (sedum and wildflowers, in particular) which offer both nutrition and a place to spend the winter.

In addition to caring for bees, beekeeper Jonathan is interested in the anthropological aspects of beekeeping, so much so that he would like to see it put on the social sciences agenda. He is a font of knowledge on the history of beekeeping and the human side of the bees’ tale. Jonathan has spare beekeeping suits and organises occasional bee excursions, even at the UvA. Would you like to know more about the UvA bees and perhaps even go up to the roof to see them from close by? Drop a line to: