Words by Sophie McMahon, Comment Print Editor
This week, Brighton and Hove council mandated the use of Bee Bricks in an update to a planning law which necessitates them in new buildings of five metres or above. It has come as a victory for councillor, Robert Nemeth, who has been campaigning for this addition since 2019, and follows similar policies adopted in Cornwall and Dorset. It is hoped that this new initiative will help aid biodiversity and increase the dwindling population of solitary bees within the city.
Bee Bricks, first designed and made by Green & Blue in 2014, are the same size as standard bricks but innovatively contain cavities that allow solitary bees to enter and lay eggs, that eventually go on to hatch in spring. They are considered to be environmentally friendly as they are made from cast concrete, using 75% waste materials from the Cornish China Clay industry.
Solitary bees, as the name suggests, tend to live alone and unlike honeybees do not have a queen, nor produce honey. Despite this, they play a crucial role in natural ecosystems, acting as pollinators who, alongside others, are responsible for a third of world food production.
The incorporation of the Bee Brick into new buildings encourages natural pollination through provision of nesting and hibernation sites in urban spaces which previously, with closed bricks, would be extremely sparse. After years of habitat loss, disease, and chemical use which has rendered 13 species extinct since 1900 and another 35 considered to be under threat, the change in law has been an important step towards the conservation of these bees.
The buzz surrounding this introduction, however, has led to debates arising within the scientific community over their effectiveness.
The councillor and professional beekeeper behind the scheme, Robert Nemeth, wrote on Twitter: “A Bee Brick – now compulsory in Brighton & Hove on new buildings after I raised the issue at Council. Big victory.” However, not everybody shared this excitement.
Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, told The Guardian that after tests, the perforations in the bricks seemed too shallow to be ideal homes for bees. He continued: “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.”
The City of Brighton and Hove is being considered a testbed for the initiative and will provide a good opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of the Bee Brick before it is potentially rolled out countrywide within the next decade.
At Queen Mary University, professor in Sensory and Behavioural Ecology, Lars Chittka, said of the mandate: “It might well be that the Brighton project provides an opportunity to study the risks and benefits on a reasonably wide scale, and over an extended period – say five years. But I would certainly recommend not copying this project across the country before the long-term benefits and risks are explored.”