(Reuters) - The roof of France's National Assembly is ready to buzz with activity after the arrival of three large bee hives this week as part of a project to promote pesticide-free honey.
The bees are expected to be moved in once the weather warms up, should produce up to 150 kg of honey a year and help pollinate flowering plants around the capital at a time of worldwide decline in bee numbers.
The project is part of a new trend across Europe to put bee colonies on city rooftops, taking advantage of the fact that bees adapt well to urban living and can target the many varieties of long-blooming inner-city greenery.
"This is a great symbol for us," Thierry Duroselle, head of the Society of French Beekeepers, talking to Reuters about the new hives perched atop part of the grandiose 18th Century palace on the Seine River that houses the lower house of parliament.
"We think it's a nice opportunity to educate people - the public and politicians - on the role of bees."
Despite their reputation for painful stings, bees are vital for human existence.
A global decline in their numbers, the reasons for which are baffling scientists, is alarming everyone from farmers to European Union policy makers.
The loss of habitat due to urban expansion, and, in France, an invasion of bee-eating Asian hornets, is adding to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
More than two-thirds of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world's food are pollinated by bees, including fruit, nuts and grains. A 2011 United Nations report estimates the work done by bees and other pollinators to help food crops reproduce is worth $196.57 billion a year.
The EU is still battling to agree on a ban of farm pesticides linked to the decline of honeybees, but studies show the insects adapt well to city living as the plants they encounter there have been treated with fewer chemicals.more