UK Cities to Require Bee Bricks for New Buildings
In a planning law introduced by the Brighton and Hove City Council, officials are calling for all new building construction for structures measuring five meters (16 feet) or higher to require the use of special bricks capable of providing nests for solitary bees.
The legislation also calls for the use of bird nesting boxes suitable for swifts.
According to reports, the special building materials, dubbed “bee bricks,” are the same size as regular bricks, but are designed with a series of narrow openings, similar to spaces where solitary bees would typically nest.
The planning law arrives as a means to increase Britain’s opportunities for biodiversity but was originally proposed in 2019.
“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.”
More recently, the incitive has gained more traction with additional councils adopting similar policies.
A new planning law introduced in Brighton and Hove calls for new buildings to include special bricks that provide nests for solitary bees.— James Herring (@itsjamesherring) January 26, 2022
Despite the effort to save the bees and provide new nesting opportunities, the new measure doesn’t come without backlash. According to Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, the bricks being developed feature holes “too shallow” to be considered “ideal homes” for the species.
“We are kidding ourselves if we think having one of these in every house is going to make any real difference for biodiversity,” Goulson said. “Far more substantial action is needed, and these bricks could easily be used as ‘greenwash' by developers.”
Other scientists have gone as far to say that the bee bricks could risk the attraction of mites and even increase the spread of disease.
Nemeth has addressed several of the voiced concerns, reporting that overall, the benefits outweigh the risks and suggested that some critics might be confusing bee bricks, which are typically made from concrete, with “insect hotels” made from wood.
“It's always easy to list the drawbacks with any solution but the key is to keep trying,” he said. “I've heard that there are risks with mites and other pests. As time goes by and awareness is raised, these sorts of niggles will invariably be ironed out.
“I've seen many great examples of solitary bees using the bricks and am won over to their potential.”
According to Green&Blue, a company that has been manufacturing bee bricks since 2014, the brick was developed in partnership with an ecologist and named the winner of the Soil Association's Innovation Award that same year.
Prior to its commercialization, the company carried out a two-year-long research project with the University of Exeter to test how color and height impacted the effectiveness of the special brick.
Moving forward, Faye Clifton of Green&Blue believes that the latest policy could create an opportunity for a larger study into the impact of the bee brick over an extended period of time.
Saving the Bees
Nearly a decade ago, one U.K. homebuilder launched a contest to design the best “bee hotel” in an effort to save the country’s bee population.
The homebuilder, David Wilson Homes, created a design contest to create “hotels” to protect the country’s bees from the sometimes harsh British weather. The Northwich, England-based company asked community groups, summer camps and playgroups to draw up plans for “the perfect bee hotel.”
However, this wasn’t the first time the company pledged its bee support.
According to the Monmouth Beacon, the company grows bee-friendly plants at all of its building developments and is a corporate member of the British Beekeepers Association.
The company also worked with students to raise awareness for the bee population by donating seeds and planting equipment in an effort to save the local bee population.