Bee-attracting bus stops: Could Auckland adopt Holland's biodiversity focus?

Bees play an important role in the ecosystem.
Bees play an important role in the ecosystem. Photo credit: Getty

A city in Holland has covered hundreds of bus stops with plants, in a bid to attract honeybees and promote biodiversity.

The roofs of more than 300 bus stops have been covered in sedum plants in the city of Utrecht as part of an initiative to improve air quality.

Despite the perceived benefits of such a plan though, don't expect to see anything similar in Auckland any time soon.

When asked if Auckland bus stops might one day be covered in greenery in a bid to boost the local bee population, an Auckland Transport spokesperson confirmed that it was, "not something Auckland Transport has looked at."

The fact that many bus stops are owned and maintained by Adshel in return for advertising revenue means that even if a separate organisation stepped up to take responsibility for looking after the plants there would still be complications, the spokesperson added.

"We would also have to take into consideration that some people have allergies to bees."

Despite the potential issues, could the city be letting a prime opportunity fly away?

Dr David Pattemore, a senior scientist at Plant & Food Research and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, says although such a plan to attract honeybees to bus stops would not be a priority in New Zealand, as the species is not native and needs to live in hives cared for by people to survive here, it could help native bees.

"[Native bees] can survive in small fragments of habitat in the city and have a unique relationship with our native plants," says Dr Pattemore. 

Wild insect species such as native bees play an important role in the ecosystem because they help pollination, nutrient cycling and to keep pest insects in check, he says.

Regardless of where the plants are located, the type of species planted by the council can also have an impact on the city's biodiversity.

"There is an opportunity for councils to provide better support for honey bees and other beneficial insects such as native bees, through planting flowering species that are good sources of nectar and pollen rather than highly-derived ornamental cultivars which often lack pollen or nectar, and creating safe habitat patches for these animals to live in," says Dr Pattemore.

All is not lost for bees in the city though. Aucklanders Jessie Baker and Luke Whitfield are doing their best to make the urban environment a better place for the insects with their organisation Bees Up Top.

The organisation rescues bees set to be exterminated, taking them to their bee sanctuary at Bethells Beach to make them healthy and productive. The bees are then rehomed on Auckland rooftops and their honey extracted and sold by the duo.

"The urban space is a great place for bees to live because there's not much competition in the city and there is a lot of food," says Ms Baker.

"We need more bees in the world because one third of the world's food is pollinated by bees so if we didn't have bees we would be living on grains and rice. Every food and vegetable that has a seed or a pip used to be a piece of pollen that was pollinated by a bee."

Bees are "super, super important".