It is not actually a secret that there is a beehive on a rooftop in Middle Temple Gardens, but few of the barristers and staff who work nearby seem to know about it.
On my way up to visit the hive with Middle Temple head gardener Kate Jenrick, a resident barrister, spotting the bee-smoker in her hand, even asked if the building was infested with wasps.
“No,” replied Jenrick, “they’re our bees.”
They are Italian honeybees, to be precise, and there are tens of thousands of them living on the roof. The hive has been there for a year already, has caused no trouble and nobody has complained, although Jenrick still wants the hive’s precise location to go unpublished in case someone gets panicky and kicks up a stink.
The bees arrived through the post in July 2010 as part of the City of London Festival’s urban beekeeping initiative, coinciding with the festival’s biodiversity theme that year.
“One of the festival’s plans was to introduce beehives into the City, and they wanted a diverse range of businesses and professions to get involved, so we were invited to host a hive,” explains Jenrick. “A consultant came and provided training to help us understand how to look after the colony, how to look out for diseases and how the bees live through the seasons.
“We’ve been keeping the hive low-key just in case people start thinking they might get stung and worry.”
Other places to take part in the initiative are the Lloyd’s Building, Mansion House, the Museum of London, the St Olave Hart Street church, St Paul’s Cathedral, SEB Bank at Scandanavia House and Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School.
Far from proving a nuisance, fledgling beekeepers have reported improvements at their workplaces since the bees arrived, according to Jenrick.
“Some of the others have said the hives have been a bit of a unifier, bringing all types of people from the business together that might not have got together normally,” she relates.
That an urban beehive could be such a conversation-starter will come as no surprise to lawyers at Eversheds. The firm has had two hives on its London roof since moving into new offices in 2008.
“Lawyers are always taking clients and other people up to see the hive,” says the firm’s environment, health and safety manager Claire Goody. “People are fascinated by the bees.”
So much so that Eversheds has another hive on the roof set up and is awaiting delivery of more bees. It is also planning to set up hives on the roofs of its Birmingham and Manchester offices this month. Eversheds even uses the honey it collects from the hives at the London office in its staff restaurant.
It is not clear why bees should prove such an attraction, but there are many inevitable, if lazy, comparisons to be made between lawyers and bees.
Both work long, hard hours collecting pollen/fees for the good of the hive/firm and both have a reputation for being aggressive and a bit of a nuisance, despite performing important functions.
Bees, however, have had a bit more luck in gaining famous supporters. Einstein is reported to have said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more men.”
And bees, like lawyers, have had a rough couple of years. Keepers have reported entire hives dying due to the cold weather and last year produced a lean honey yield, although Goody thinks this year will be much better.
It is a trend managing partners across London may empathise with as they get to grips with the figures at the end of another tough financial year.