In a laboratory in Tower Hamlets an army of bees is being created for the greater good.
Once strong enough the tiny insects will be fitted with weather-proof identification tags and sent out across the capital to try and protect our future food supply.
They belong to The London Pollinator Project launched by Queen Mary University of London to try and help the ailing bee population, under threat from loss of habitat and lack of suitable flowers.
In the last century three bumblebee species have been wiped out and four more are in danger of extinction.
Biologists from the School Of Biological And Chemical Sciences want to help by tapping into green spaces such as balconies, terraces and windowsills.
They are asking Londoners to ready their urban gardens for the bees by planting pollen rich flowers such as English lavender, viper’s blugloss, or spiked speedwell.
Project leader Professor Lars Chittka said: “Everyone can do something about the decline of bees.
“There are numerous effects for us if they die out, the main one being that there would be very little food.”
About 70 % of UK crops are dependent on, or benefit from, bee visits and their economic value is estimated at £400million per annum in the UK and 14.2billion euros across the EU.
Every colony starts with a queen and Lars and his team have caught several and are raising the workers in Mile End under “perfect” conditions with the aim of releasing up to 2,000 bees later this year.
He said: “At this stage they are still very small. Once they are old enough we will put them on the roof of the university so they can come and go as they please.
“We need a substantial number of young bees for this, the more the merrier, so when exactly we will be releasing them is a bit unpredictable but it will be sometime from mid-June onwards.”
Before they are released the insects will be carefully tagged using special cages developed by beekeepers. One side is made of plastic grating large enough to push the tiny numbered tags through and on the opposite side there is a soft sponge surface that the bees are gently pushed against while the tag is stuck on their backs with non-toxic super glue.
The tags will allow the public to track the bees as part of a competition which is offering prizes of £100 Amazon gift vouchers for the best photo of a QMUL-tagged bee on a flower, for the highest number of tagged bees spotted and for the best photo of a London bee-friendly garden.
Lars encouraged families to study the insects.
He said: “Bees are fascinating subjects: they travel the distance of London’s congestion charging zone everyday foraging for nectar and somehow remember to return to their hive – not easy when you have a brain the size of a pin.”
The tags will also allow researchers uncover how urban gardening can affect the pollinating practices of urban bees and learn what flowers are most attractive for pollinators in London.
Figures show since the 1940s the amount of flower-rich grassland in Britain has declined from 15million acres to 250,000 acres – a loss of 98% – due to industrial agriculture.
Since 1912, when there were 25 species of bumblebee, the apple, Cullem’s and short-haired bumblebee have all become extinct .
Lars said: “There is a lot to compensate for, but if we can affect some culture change in terms of what people plant in urban areas such their gardens, it could make a real difference.
The London Pollinator Project is funded by QMUL’s Centre Of Public Engagement and School Of Biological And Chemical Sciences.
Find out more about the project and which flowers to plant here .