15 May 2018

Rooftop oasis for honey bees at Princesshay

High above Princesshay, Exeter, our peaceful rooftop garden is home to around 100,000 honey bees. Positive for biodiversity and popular with local people, our busy bees also provided the inspiration for a beautiful artwork, ‘Princesshay Honey Flow’. 

Princesshay city bees

Since launching in 2012, our city bees project has gone from strength to strength. Our hidden garden now houses five hives, along with fruit trees, bushes, bee friendly flowering plants and a scented herb garden.

The wonderful plants of Britain’s gardens, parks and countryside cannot flourish without their pollen being spread by insects. Yet bees and other pollinators are facing many pressures, leading to a decline in numbers and a reduction in the diversity of species in many parts of the country.

Not only does our city bees project support The Crown Estate’s aspiration to create healthy places where customers, employees, communities and natural habitats can thrive, it also offers exciting opportunities for us to engage with local people. Over 2,000 people have visited our hives and rooftop garden, including local artists, schoolchildren and community groups.

An observation hive gives visitors the chance to see activity inside the hive through glass panels, gaining insights into the busy world of bees. We have also hosted popular bee-themed activities in the centre, from botanical art workshops and bee print creative sessions, to honey tastings and talks by food writers on bees and the place of honey in cuisines around the world.

Six local volunteer beekeepers tend and care for our bees, including Princesshay Operations Director, Andy Littlejohns, who first got our bees project off the ground. All the volunteers have been trained by local bee specialist Jason Wallis of WeeTree Nurseries.

Honey harvested from the bees has quite a local following and quickly flies off the shelves of Chandos Deli, with all proceeds going to Princesshay’s Charity of the Year. Summer 2017 was a bumper harvest, producing 120 pounds of honey.

Russell Courtney, Manager of Chandos Deli, commented: “We have the privilege of being exclusive stockists of Princesshay’s honey which has grown quite a customer following over the last few years. In the weeks leading up to the on-sale date, we’ll receive daily calls and visits to the deli asking when it will be available. Last year we sold out within a month!”

Princesshay Honey Flow

In 2016, nationally renowned local artist Amy Shelton traced a bee’s journey through a whole year to create a beautiful artwork celebrating the city’s bees and our work in urban bee conservation.

Amy looked at the different flowers the bees visited each season, both in our garden and across Exeter. She then selected and pressed each flower and displayed them chronologically in a lightbox, from the first flowers of spring right through to winter.

Amy said: “The Princesshay Honey Flow light box illuminates the flowering plants and trees that sustain the city’s honey bees across the seasons and celebrates how mutually beneficial it is for humans and pollinators to have a biodiverse habitat in which to live.”

Displayed next to our customer service area, by the entrance to our rooftop garden, the lightbox gives visitors a bee’s eye view of the city. We hope this encourages more people to plant bee friendly flowers in their gardens, balconies, window boxes and allotments, enriching the city with colours and scents and providing essential forage for pollinators.

Watch the Princesshay Honey Flow video

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