Brandon University is building buzz for bees with cameras showing the ‘awesome’ world of hives

A set of cameras installed on the roof of a Brandon University building aims to generate buzz about bees and help pollinator knowledge take flight in southwestern Manitoba.

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

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

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

“I didn’t know it would be so magical and awe-inspiring, to see so many bees all at work, looking at you, flying around. It’s unbelievable.”

Hamilton’s curiosity was piqued by beekeeping issues, including the disarray of colony collapse and the growing community involvement in supporting bees.

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

The 2022 season was a devastating year for beekeepers across Canada. Bee losses are in the 40 percent range for parts of the country, but Manitoba’s figure is about 57 percent.

Bee levels struggle for a variety of reasons, including the varroa mite, an invasive parasite.

Other municipalities have opportunities for urban beekeeping, Hamilton said, and bringing hives to BU felt like a natural opportunity to raise awareness of 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 in a beehive.
Bees work in their hive. The Brandon University livestream provides 24/7 insight into what is happening with the hives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

“We wanted to invite people to come to campus to see the bees, to see what they are doing,” Smith said.

The hives were supplied by local beekeeper Mike Clark and the honey bees were shared by an anonymous local beekeeper.

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

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

“It was really exciting to learn the ins and outs and all the specialized knowledge that beekeepers bring to the hives,” Hamilton said.

“There’s a lot more to it than that superficial understanding. And it’s given me a deep respect for what beekeepers go through, especially the challenges they go through.”

24/7 live stream

Cameras placed in front of the hives in early August now provide a 24-hour live stream video of the hive entrances, giving people around the world the chance to watch the bees.

The goal of the project is to raise awareness about the different ways the community can support honeybees and natural pollinators in southwestern Manitoba, Smid said.

The public’s support and interest in being involved in the project has been overwhelming, Hamilton said.

“I am 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 goes beyond campus boundaries,” Smith said, and they’re happy to see someone raising awareness about how to help the struggling bee population.

“So the bees are like little ambassadors flying through the city,” she said.

A close-up of bees crawling past a video camera.
Bees land on a new camera for live streaming. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

There are simple steps people can take to help honeybees and local pollinators, she said, and the hives are helping get the word out.

Simple actions like planting flowers, leaving the lawn unmowed, and leaving fall foliage can help the bees thrive.

Three people stand next to beehives surrounded by swarming bees.
Hamilton, beekeeper Mike Clark and Blacksmith look at the new beehives. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Hamilton said people were hopeful there will be a shift in the city toward greater awareness of the troubled insect population and what can be done to help.

“Hopefully it clears the way for the City Council to support urban beekeeping or some sort of beekeeping framework for the entire city of Brandon so that people can do more than just build gardens,” he said.

“They may be able to become a beekeeper themselves.”

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