Seoul's Skyscrapers Are an Unlikely Home for Honeybees

Seoul's Skyscrapers Are an Unlikely Home for Honeybees

Jieun Choi
Jieun Choi

Some 30 rooftops of high-rise buildings in Seoul are homes to honeybees.

Park Jin, CEO of Urban Bees Seoul, a beekeeping co-op based in South Korean capital, is behind the movement to make the mega-city friendlier for the insects. 

The most difficult part about urban beekeeping is changing people’s perspectives, says Park. Unlike what many think, urban beekeeping is safe, both in terms of growing bees and eating their produce.

“Honeybees aren’t so interested in humans. They are looking for flowers and trees, but people usually don’t know,” said Park. Pollution is filtered out through the process of regurgitating flower nectar.

The main difference between urban and rural beekeeping is the aim: “Urban beekeeping is more of a movement to protect bees disappearing from cities,” he said.

In recent decades, the number of honeybees worldwide has been declining significantly. The phenomenon of mass bee deaths — mostly resulting in worker bees disappearing and leaving behind a queen and some immature bees — was termed the Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006. In some regions, CCD resulted in the number of honeybees dropping by half.

The exact cause is unknown, although scientists predict it to be a complex combination of pollution, mono-cultures, pesticides, etc.  

Urban beekeeping in Seoul. 

Fortunately, the South Korean beekeeping industry has been safe from the disorder. “Domestic honey production has risen and fallen repeatedly,” according to a 2017 study on beekeeping in Japan and South Korea, which details the recent trends in honey production. 

In South Korea, beekeeping began around 2,000 years ago in Goguryeo, according to New Apiculture by S.Y. Choi. Korean beekeepers reared two species: the oriental honeybee (Apis cerana) and the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera L.), which was imported in the early 1900s. By 2002, exotic bees accounted for 83 percent of beehives in South Korea, where the dominant species is currently the Western honeybee.

In 2010, nearly 75 percent of native honeybees were wiped out after a virus outbreak, says Park. According to Nongmin Sinmun, a prominent agriculture newspaper, nearly 40 percent of bee farms were affected in 2010 alone.

Not long afterward, Park started beekeeping in Seoul, eventually expanding his hobby into a social enterprise that educates individuals and companies on urban beekeeping. Park is also expanding his business overseas, with plans to educate farmers in Ghana of beekeeping. By the end of 2018, Urban Bees Seoul would oversee 50 bee farms. 

On top of raising awareness, Park aims to work with firefighters: A huge part of their job responsibilities includes removing wasp hives in the cities — nearly 50 percent of their tasks during summer.


Credit: Film equipment is sponsored by SLRRENT, a leader in camera rental service.

Cover image: Urban beekeeping. (Source: Jaehun Lee via Flickr, CC by 2.0)

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