Brandon University makes noise for bees with cameras showing the ‘wonderful’ world of hives

A series of cameras mounted on the roof of a Brandon University building wants to get the word out about bees and help pollinator knowledge fly across southwestern Manitoba.

The university has installed two rooftop cameras on campus to provide a “hive stream” of two new European honey bee hives.

BU professor Deanna Smid and the university’s director of marketing and communications, Grant Hamilton, help coordinate and maintain the two new hives.

“I knew it would be interesting to see the inside of a beehive,” said Smid, an English and cultural studies professor whose interest in bees was sparked by the study of bees as literary symbols.

“I didn’t know it would be so magical and amazing, just seeing so many bees all working in the distance, looking at you, flying around. It’s incredible.”

Hamilton’s interest was in beekeeping issues, including colony collapse disorder, and increasing community activism to support bees.

Brandon University professor Deanna Smid stands atop Harvest Hall with her new beehives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The 2022 season has been a devastating year for beekeepers across Canada. In some parts of the country, bee losses are in the 40 percent range, but in Manitoba, the number is about 57 percent.

Bee levels are struggling for several reasons, including the invasive parasite varroa mite.

Other municipalities have urban beekeeping opportunities, Hamilton said, and bringing hives to BU felt like a natural fit to raise awareness about these issues while supporting pollinators.

The two beehives were installed in early June as part of a five-year pilot project on the roof of the university’s Harvest Hall — a location chosen because it is visible from the second floor of the BU Library.

Bees crawl inside the hive.
Bees work in their hive. Brandon University’s live stream provides a 24/7 look at what’s happening with the hives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“We wanted to invite people to come to campus to see the bees, to see what they’re doing,” Smid said.

The hives were provided by local beekeeper Mike Clark, and the honeybees were shared by an anonymous local beekeeper.

A smiling man with white shoulders has a small bee on his shoulder as countless bees swarm around him.
BU communication is surrounded by a swarm of Grant Hamilton bees. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Hamilton said the idea is to create a self-sustaining urban beekeeping operation staffed by community members who can maintain hives and gain a better understanding of bees and beekeeping.

“It’s been really interesting to learn the intricacies and all the specialized knowledge that beekeepers bring to the hives,” Hamilton said.

“There’s more to it than what’s understood on a surface level. It gave me a deep respect for what beekeepers go through, especially the hardships they go through.”

24/7 live streaming

Cameras placed in front of hives in early August now provide round-the-clock live streaming video of hive entrances, giving people around the world a chance to watch the bees.

The goal of the project is to help create awareness of the different ways the community in southwestern Manitoba can support honey bees and natural pollinators, Smid said.

Hamilton said that there has been great public support and interest in participating in the project.

“I’m optimistic that it will be a huge success because the first year has already been very successful,” he said.

People are “excited to see Brandon University doing something that literally moves beyond campus,” Smid said, and happy to see someone raising awareness about how to help a struggling bee population.

“So the bees are like little ambassadors flying around the city,” he said.

Close-up of bees crawling along the video camera.
Bees land on a new live-streaming camera. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

There are simple steps people can take to help honey bees and native pollinators, he said, and hives help spread the word.

Simple actions like planting flowers, leaving lawns unmowed, and leaving fall leaves in place can help bees thrive.

Three people stand near beehives, surrounded by bees.
Hamilton, beekeeper Mike Clark and Smid inspect new hives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Hamilton said he hopes there will be a shift in people becoming more aware of the problem bug population in the city and what can be done to help.

“I hope this sets the stage for the city council to support urban beekeeping or some kind of beekeeping framework for the whole city of Brandon so people can do more than just garden,” she said.

“Maybe they can discover being a beekeeper themselves.”

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