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Oslo Is Trying to Make a Highway for Bees

The city government is promoting a grassroots effort to plant flowers along a corridor that cuts through Oslo, which will provide food and shelter for the pollinators.
June 25, 2015, 9:25pm
Photo by Federico Gambarini/EPA

A bee buzzing through Oslo may now be more likely to find a flower to feed on or a place to rest, thanks to a project to create a bee route through the Norwegian capital.

The idea behind the grassroots project is to encourage people to plant flowers along a corridor that cuts from the northwest to the southeast of the city, through its center, connecting three larger green spaces that already exist, explains Agnes Lycke Melvaer, of the Norwegian organization ByBi, which is helping coordinate the project.

The concept, she says, is to get people involved in helping pollinators like bees.

"If you have a little balcony, and you have a little place to plant, you can plant flowers and you will see the pollinators come and eat from your little restaurant," she told VICE News. Just one sunflower can feed 20 pollinators, she said.

The project has received 200,000 Norwegian krone, or about $26,000, from the Oslo city government, she said, which has financed a website where people can upload and map their contributions to the so-called bee highway. She's unsure just how many small sites have been created, and says the website is not yet working as it should.

Melvaer says they have been working with school children to plant flowers, as well as coordinating with others and trying to work with the business world, too. People along the corridor have reached out to her to find ways to contribute, she said. The goal is to raise awareness and help make the city an easier, less fragmented place for bees to traverse, feed, and rest.

"We have to start seeing the landscape through the eyes of the pollinators," she said.

*Related: *Bees might be keeping us alive, but they're also completely delicious

Bees' needs are simple, says Scott Black, the executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a Portland, Oregon-based environmental organization.

"They need a buffet of flowers that bloom over the entire season, so from early spring to late fall," Black told VICE News. "They need places to nest. And they need a refuge from insecticides. And so the neat thing about this effort in Oslo, and other similar efforts across Europe and the United States, is that anybody can do those things."

There is a pollinator pathway initiative in Seattle, he pointed out, and even a plan to make US Interstate 35, which runs between Minnesota and Texas, a friendly route for monarch butterflies.

It's a tough time for bees, whether they are in Norway or not.

Black says habitat loss, insecticide use, climate change, and disease are hitting bees hard. In recent years, honeybees have seen losses of 30 to 40 percent of hives, he said.

Honeybees are just one of thousands of species of bees, and wild bees are also in danger. Bumblebees, for example, are a group actually comprised of over 40 species, and Black said that about a quarter of those are imperiled.

Pollinators are incredibly important, Black said. "Pollinators — not just honey bees, but it's all pollinators — are responsible for one in three bites of food we eat," Black added. "And it's the most nutritious food." Not only that, pollinators service more than 80 percent of the world's plants.

"If pollinators decline too much, we're gonna feel it," he added.

*Related: *Bees might be addicted to nicotine-like insecticides that are killing them

Establishing a corridor through which wildlife can move is a well-established conservancy tactic, said Robert McDonald, a landscape ecologist with the Nature Conservancy. But, he said, they have to be done correctly, with the needs of the specific creature — whether it's a mountain lion, an amphibian, or a bee — in mind. "But if you get that right, there's a lot of evidence that they do work in helping species move around," McDonald told VICE News.

"For most species, the urban matrix we live in is a pretty inhospitable place," he continued. Pavement-covered cities are tough environments for animals, and so green patches can be like "stepping stones" for creatures on the move.

But the Oslo bee project, McDonald says, faces a difficult question. "How much is this grassroots initiative going to succeed in moving bees around?" he wondered. "I don't know yet. I haven't seen a great example of a bee highway, or a bee corridor, yet." He hopes that they have a plan in mind to test, five or ten years in the future, how well it has accomplished its goal. And that is a hard thing to do, he said, with grassroots conservation initiatives.

However, he added: "There's a value to this in just getting people in Oslo thinking about bees and connecting with nature psychologically."

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

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