We already talked about monitoring the environment with bees, but on a more general level, the presence of bees is an indicator for an area’s well-being and inevitable for biological diversity. In frames of the BeePathNet URBACT project in 2018-2021, the XIIth district of Budapest has been working on becoming a bee-friendly district with several initiatives addressing the decision-making level, education, culture and residents’ involvement. We are exploring the topic with Nóra Laki, local coordinator and Attila Varga, project coordinator of the above project; colleagues of the district’s Green Office.
BURST: Nóra and Attila, please tell us about the project, about Hegyvidék’s and your role in it.
Nóra Laki: BeePathNet was an URBACT Transfer Network project, where the City of Ljubljana was the good practice owner and the project’s Lead Partner. The project’s and our aim, along with all the other participating cities, was to adapt this good practice and exchange experience among the partnership. So the topic was urban beekeeping, and the good practice itself was the foundation of a volunteer network for the sake of a bee-friendly city – our aim was to create this type of network in our cities. I would like to mention that we had many activities going towards this direction even before this project, we got on board this project to elaborate these and get new inspiration.
What were your activities during the project, and did you continue any of them afterwards?
The main direction was to act towards the maintenance of biodiversity on the basis of “bee-friendliness”: we scattered the seeds of bee-friendly plants in new areas; we designated less-frequently manually mown areas. We have been doing an “Urban meadow” project for years, now we included it in the BeePathnet project. Based on our very first transnational project we founded the Greenspace Stewardship initiative, we involved this as well in the current project, adapting it to bee-friendliness with preference of planting bee-friendly plants. Beside the public greenspaces, we tackled private greenery as well with several initiatives. Every year we launch a discount indigenous fruit tree sale for the local residents. We included this action as well by emphasizing the trees’ role in the pollinator cycle. We produced tutorial videos on how the residents can create bee-friendly environments in their gardens, on their balconies. We launched a call with the title “Nature in our gardens”, based on the idea of one of our residents. We pooled a professional team from our stakeholders in the project, who participated in defining the call criteria and acted as jury as well. This initiative was extremely pertinent for our integrated goal, as it builds on biodiversity, but at the same time it is pollinator-friendly as well, all this tackling the private areas. We created a guideline document for the above purpose, and published the winners in the local newspaper. We started all these actions in 2020 and have been going on with them ever since.
All the mentioned initiatives are smaller-scale, low-budget actions, building on existing activities. Then where is the innovation in this project?
I admit that the activities in the BeePathnet project are not expensive ones, however, I would argue with the assumption that they are not innovative based on their simple nature. Most of the activities carried out in this project are nature based solutions, aiming to protect, sustainably manage and restore the natural ecosystem. By definition these type of activities don’t come with popping-in-the-eye changes and futuristic technical solutions, which are usually perceived as innovations; but their back-to-the-nature approach is innovative. On the other hand, these are the actions where citizen involvement has the highest potential. These activities don’t require much money, and part of the actions can be done “at home” as well on a smaller scale: thus they are inclusive, easily digestible and communicable towards the public. You can’t really involve citizens in the construction of a building, they wouldn’t identify with such action on the same level as they can identify with an action which is understandable for them in its nature and scale as well. We should strive to communicate available, applicable and easily spreadable good practices and the mentality behind – in fact these are the secrets of nature-based solutions.
Your train of thoughts imply intense citizen involvement in the actions. How do you manage to reach out and create such mobilisation?
The key to public involvement is, on the one hand, continuous and intense communication: we communicate the goal at every public occasion and forum, and we also show what activities the municipality carries out in order to achieve it. On the other hand, it is important to plan actions that aim for the active participation of residents, and to connect these to larger actions and to the ultimate end goal. For example, if there is a distribution of fruit trees, it must be clearly communicated that this supports the pollinator-friendly project; so anyone who participates in this action supports the goal, that this way they are part of the project. I think this is the key: one is part of the project in such a way that one supports the big picture, in the meantime contributing to the development of the own, local environment, and even tools are provided for the individual action. If this circle is established and communicated, then citizens can feel their own small contribution to the big picture.
In the beginning of the interview you said that the ultimate goal of the project was the foundation of a volunteer network for the sake of a bee-friendly city. I suppose the individual actions you mentioned were all part of this. Please tell us about the network itself.
This network was a bit of a paradox itself, as our aim was to incubate bottom-up ideas based on a top-down initiative. It was a quite a challenge in the beginning to create and facilitate this network… one difficulty was to make people understand the role of the municipality in this network: it was not a “regular boss” placing the order for a service and following up its performance, but rather acting as one link in the chain of the network with the role coordination. The participants were given a free hand on what to create. The other difficulty was to launch the network and create its identity. In this aspect the lesson learnt was that a network can be smoothly launched if the possible synergies are mapped right at the beginning. This makes it easier for the members to find fruitful cooperations, and thus profit from the network and get motivation to continue and create new synergies. For example the local cultural centre had the idea of a series of lectures on pollinators, for which they found experts in the network, and the event was advertised through the Municipality’s channels, thus they reached a bigger audience. The network’s success was and still is in finding these win-win situations.
Attila, could you tell us about the transnational network of BeePathnet?
Attila Varga: By the end of the 3 year project we achieved much more than we had expected in the beginning, the networks were created in all cities and were operating successfully instead of being in their try-error phase. I think one of the reasons behind this success was the attitude and approach represented by the Lead Partner Ljubljana: they had the heart and the mind as well to guide the partner cities in the right directions and motivate them. Inspired by the success of the BeePathNet project they launched the built-on project called BeePathnet Reloaded, where they transferred the network building mechanism to 4 further cities on top of the initial 5 cities we were part of. They also involved us as an alumni: in the beginning they invited us to share our experiences, and we were also invited to the the Final Meeting taking place in Ljubljana this October. Here they took the cooperation further: with the participation of the cities of both projects they launched the Bee Path City Network, an open platform.
What does the Bee Path City network covers and what are the next steps?
Attila: Becoming part of this network offers training and knowledge transfer for aspiring cities, with regular only meetings and a yearly personal gathering in Ljubljana. We have a Bee Path Cities Philosophy, containing our vision, mission, values, etc. – this is available in English, and now we are translating it into national languages to provide the cities contacting any of us with practical information on how to join. And then who knows, maybe we will end up creating a global hive!
All material mentioned and background information can be found on the Bee Path Cities’ website here.
Hegyvidék – Több mint kerület’s Green Office was established in
2016 as a department of the municipality that has several roles to address the needs of the residents and to develop the district’s sustainability further. They have been working on
transnational projects to tackle environmental issues since The Office’s foundation, the BeePathNet being their third cooperation with cities from all over Europe.