.
W

hen Colonel Mojca Pešec assumed her post as defense attaché with the Embassy of Slovenia in Washington, she and her husband did something that Slovenians have done for generations - they built a beehive at their home. Using scrap wood found around their neighborhood, and with a little help from a neighbor, they built a home for Apis Carniola, also known as Slovenian bees. 

"We produced 14 kg of honey this year! It was a good 14 kg of wonderful honey," Pešec says. "In a good Slovenian tradition, we only take less than 30 percent of honey. The rest of the honey we leave with the bees."

Peter Pešec, husband of Slovenian defense attaché Mojca Pešec, tends bees in the hives they built on their property. Photo credit: Mojca Pešec
Peter Pešec, husband of Slovenian defense attaché Mojca Pešec, tends bees in the hives they built on their property. Photo by Mojca Pešec.

It may be a Slovenian tradition, but worldwide, the need for honeybees, and pollinators in general, is more important than ever. More than half the domestic honeybee colonies in the United States have been lost between 1947 and 2005. According to the European Red List, around one in three bee and butterfly species has a declining population, while around one in ten are threatened with extinction. A new World Bank report claims that, by conservative estimate, a collapse in select services such as wild pollination, provision of food from marine fisheries and timber from native forests, could result in a significant decline in global GDP: $2.7 trillion in 2030.

Weeks after G7 talks resulted in climate promises that lacked specific details, and months ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, as unprecedented natural emergencies abound, a new masterplan aims to position Europe as a leader in climate policy action. But as world leaders jockey for position on climate change on the global stage, some embassies in Washington are taking a more local approach. 

In a city that was once farmland, a large percentage of which is now owned by foreign governments, some embassies are graced with enormous tracts of land. Great portions of those tracts are abutting natural and protected areas; including Rock Creek Park, the country's third oldest national park, offering opportunities to contribute to the city's ecosystem not found in other capital cities. While security fences may keep out hikers and prevent natural wildlife corridors from forming, some embassies are finding ways to connect to their surrounding environment, whether they have large tracts of land, or not. 

One of those ways is by maintaining beehives on embassy and residence grounds as part of a comprehensive ecosystem management plan. Several embassies are doing just that, and with each using a different model for maintaining their hives and managing the sale of honey, other embassies can readily adopt a model that suits them, as well, or even, create their own. 

The Canadian Model

Colin Shonk examines the bees in residence at the Embassy of Canada. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
Colin Shonk examines the bees in residence at the Embassy of Canada. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

On a hot summer's day, several staff of the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue gather on its rooftop, so famed it has its own hashtag, #Viewfrom501. They're there with beekeepers from Alvéole, a Montreal-based beekeeping start-up that is currently maintaining two hives on the Canadian property. Usually the spot of social gatherings, a portion of the roof has been used as critical outdoor gathering space during the pandemic, and now hosts a vegetable garden, Monarch butterfly gardens, and of course, the hives. 

"We put these hives in last June, and we're thinking of adding solar panels," Colin Shonk, a spokesperson for the embassy, explained during a recent visit. "We're hoping to find the balance between using the area for environmental initiatives like these, and the need for event space. We haven't had that challenge yet because of the lockdowns, but it'll be interesting to see how guests react to the hives once we start gatherings again."

In addition to supporting local pollinators, the hives serve another purpose. In 2020, the bees collected 200 jars of honey from flowers around the National Mall. The honey was then sold to staff, and the proceeds benefited the Canadian government's charitable giving campaign.

The British Model

The hives at the UK Ambassador's Residence are part of a comprehensive gardening approach. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The hives at the UK Ambassador's Residence are part of a comprehensive gardening approach. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

Bees have always been part of the garden at the British Ambassador's Residence in what was once Normanstone farm. John Sonnier, the head gardener, explains that's because bees are a standard part of garden maintenance in the UK, and the ambassador's garden is the best example of a British garden in the United States. 

"Other embassies have representational gardens, that showcase certain plants or trees," Sonnier explained on a recent tour. "We're not trying to be an arboretum, but this is, in every way, an English garden. We have pollinator gardens, we limit use of pesticides, we have imperfect lawns with clover here and there, which is good for the bees, we have a cistern that collects rainwater."

"We are gardening in the whole way," Sonnier said.

The two British hives, which have Italian and Russian bees, produced approximately 80 pounds of honey last year, which is used in the residence and occasionally given as gifts, but not available for sale. Staff maintains the bees, with outside help from DC Beekeepers Alliance and other experts when needed.

The Swiss Model

Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud surveys the hives he hosts on embassy grounds. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud surveys the hives he hosts on embassy grounds. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

When local beekeepers Sean Kennedy and Erin Gleeson of Bee Curious called Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud about potentially hosting some hives on the Swiss embassy grounds, he responded enthusiastically. 

"They emailed on a Thursday," Pitteloud recalled at a recent meeting at the Swiss Ambassador's Residence. "We had a call that Friday, picked out a plot that same day, and they brought the bees over on Sunday." 

The property now hosts 30 hives, with approximately 50,000 bees per hive. The hives are owned by Bee Curious and maintained by Kennedy and Gleeson, who will be hosting a honey sale during harvest time in hopes of recouping the more than $10,000 in equipment it took to build and maintain what Kennedy says is the largest single apiary in Washington. A portion of the honey will be donated back to the embassy for the ambassador's use.

The Irish Model

The land at the Irish Ambassador's residence is left as untamed as the country's coastline. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The land at the Irish Ambassador's residence is left as untamed as the country's coastline. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

Although lacking in official beehives (for now), the grounds of the residence of the Irish Ambassador has broken from the tradition of the carefully manicured lawns of its peers and instead gone as untamed as the Irish coastline. 

"We have a wild garden," Ambassador Dan Mulhall told me at a dinner recently. "It's rugged with rocks and stone seating and filled with trees dedicated to famous Irish. There's a birdbath where the birds like to bathe and we hardly ever mow the lawn." On a hot summer day, sitting in that garden, with the birds chirping, the tree cover seemed to bring the temperature down a few degrees. Nearby, several bees hovered around a patch of clover.

The Tunisian Model

The Tunisian embassy and residence boast pollinator gardens. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The Tunisian embassy and residence boast pollinator gardens. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

While not hosting hives of their own, both the Embassy of Tunisia in downtown Washington and its residence up near Rock Creek park host pollinator gardens, and herb gardens. The embassy, located on an island in the city, is one of the few along that strip of Massachusetts Avenue to have such resting spots for pollinators. As I wandered among the plants, a bee - who's to say from where? - came to rest on one before me. 

Additional Models

An exchange of bees at the Canadian embassy. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
An exchange of bees at the Canadian residence. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

While each diplomatic property often strives to reflect the ethos of its host country, its embassy does not operate within its own ecosystem. Bees are one of the clearest signs of environmental codependence, and their decline a harbinger of broader failures. It will take more than grand summitry to solve the crisis of pollinator decline. With a variety of options, nearly any embassy can incorporate pollinator-friendly solutions, whether they have large plots of land, or hardly any at all, or window ledges available for gardens, or defense ministers with a few pieces of scrap wood and kind neighbors.

Does your diplomatic property have vegetable gardens, xeriscaping, beehives, solar panels, wildlife corridors, or other environmentally-friendly features? Please get in touch for an upcoming story at editors @ diplomaticourier.org or nominate a property for inclusion in our Diplomatica series via this form. 

About
Molly McCluskey
:
Molly McCluskey is an international investigative journalist and creator of Diplomatica. Follow her on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Redefining Environmental Diplomacy

Photo by Damien Tupinier via Unsplash.

July 14, 2021

As world leaders jockey for position on climate change on the global stage, some embassies in Washington are taking a more local approach.

W

hen Colonel Mojca Pešec assumed her post as defense attaché with the Embassy of Slovenia in Washington, she and her husband did something that Slovenians have done for generations - they built a beehive at their home. Using scrap wood found around their neighborhood, and with a little help from a neighbor, they built a home for Apis Carniola, also known as Slovenian bees. 

"We produced 14 kg of honey this year! It was a good 14 kg of wonderful honey," Pešec says. "In a good Slovenian tradition, we only take less than 30 percent of honey. The rest of the honey we leave with the bees."

Peter Pešec, husband of Slovenian defense attaché Mojca Pešec, tends bees in the hives they built on their property. Photo credit: Mojca Pešec
Peter Pešec, husband of Slovenian defense attaché Mojca Pešec, tends bees in the hives they built on their property. Photo by Mojca Pešec.

It may be a Slovenian tradition, but worldwide, the need for honeybees, and pollinators in general, is more important than ever. More than half the domestic honeybee colonies in the United States have been lost between 1947 and 2005. According to the European Red List, around one in three bee and butterfly species has a declining population, while around one in ten are threatened with extinction. A new World Bank report claims that, by conservative estimate, a collapse in select services such as wild pollination, provision of food from marine fisheries and timber from native forests, could result in a significant decline in global GDP: $2.7 trillion in 2030.

Weeks after G7 talks resulted in climate promises that lacked specific details, and months ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, as unprecedented natural emergencies abound, a new masterplan aims to position Europe as a leader in climate policy action. But as world leaders jockey for position on climate change on the global stage, some embassies in Washington are taking a more local approach. 

In a city that was once farmland, a large percentage of which is now owned by foreign governments, some embassies are graced with enormous tracts of land. Great portions of those tracts are abutting natural and protected areas; including Rock Creek Park, the country's third oldest national park, offering opportunities to contribute to the city's ecosystem not found in other capital cities. While security fences may keep out hikers and prevent natural wildlife corridors from forming, some embassies are finding ways to connect to their surrounding environment, whether they have large tracts of land, or not. 

One of those ways is by maintaining beehives on embassy and residence grounds as part of a comprehensive ecosystem management plan. Several embassies are doing just that, and with each using a different model for maintaining their hives and managing the sale of honey, other embassies can readily adopt a model that suits them, as well, or even, create their own. 

The Canadian Model

Colin Shonk examines the bees in residence at the Embassy of Canada. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
Colin Shonk examines the bees in residence at the Embassy of Canada. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

On a hot summer's day, several staff of the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue gather on its rooftop, so famed it has its own hashtag, #Viewfrom501. They're there with beekeepers from Alvéole, a Montreal-based beekeeping start-up that is currently maintaining two hives on the Canadian property. Usually the spot of social gatherings, a portion of the roof has been used as critical outdoor gathering space during the pandemic, and now hosts a vegetable garden, Monarch butterfly gardens, and of course, the hives. 

"We put these hives in last June, and we're thinking of adding solar panels," Colin Shonk, a spokesperson for the embassy, explained during a recent visit. "We're hoping to find the balance between using the area for environmental initiatives like these, and the need for event space. We haven't had that challenge yet because of the lockdowns, but it'll be interesting to see how guests react to the hives once we start gatherings again."

In addition to supporting local pollinators, the hives serve another purpose. In 2020, the bees collected 200 jars of honey from flowers around the National Mall. The honey was then sold to staff, and the proceeds benefited the Canadian government's charitable giving campaign.

The British Model

The hives at the UK Ambassador's Residence are part of a comprehensive gardening approach. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The hives at the UK Ambassador's Residence are part of a comprehensive gardening approach. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

Bees have always been part of the garden at the British Ambassador's Residence in what was once Normanstone farm. John Sonnier, the head gardener, explains that's because bees are a standard part of garden maintenance in the UK, and the ambassador's garden is the best example of a British garden in the United States. 

"Other embassies have representational gardens, that showcase certain plants or trees," Sonnier explained on a recent tour. "We're not trying to be an arboretum, but this is, in every way, an English garden. We have pollinator gardens, we limit use of pesticides, we have imperfect lawns with clover here and there, which is good for the bees, we have a cistern that collects rainwater."

"We are gardening in the whole way," Sonnier said.

The two British hives, which have Italian and Russian bees, produced approximately 80 pounds of honey last year, which is used in the residence and occasionally given as gifts, but not available for sale. Staff maintains the bees, with outside help from DC Beekeepers Alliance and other experts when needed.

The Swiss Model

Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud surveys the hives he hosts on embassy grounds. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud surveys the hives he hosts on embassy grounds. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

When local beekeepers Sean Kennedy and Erin Gleeson of Bee Curious called Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud about potentially hosting some hives on the Swiss embassy grounds, he responded enthusiastically. 

"They emailed on a Thursday," Pitteloud recalled at a recent meeting at the Swiss Ambassador's Residence. "We had a call that Friday, picked out a plot that same day, and they brought the bees over on Sunday." 

The property now hosts 30 hives, with approximately 50,000 bees per hive. The hives are owned by Bee Curious and maintained by Kennedy and Gleeson, who will be hosting a honey sale during harvest time in hopes of recouping the more than $10,000 in equipment it took to build and maintain what Kennedy says is the largest single apiary in Washington. A portion of the honey will be donated back to the embassy for the ambassador's use.

The Irish Model

The land at the Irish Ambassador's residence is left as untamed as the country's coastline. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The land at the Irish Ambassador's residence is left as untamed as the country's coastline. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

Although lacking in official beehives (for now), the grounds of the residence of the Irish Ambassador has broken from the tradition of the carefully manicured lawns of its peers and instead gone as untamed as the Irish coastline. 

"We have a wild garden," Ambassador Dan Mulhall told me at a dinner recently. "It's rugged with rocks and stone seating and filled with trees dedicated to famous Irish. There's a birdbath where the birds like to bathe and we hardly ever mow the lawn." On a hot summer day, sitting in that garden, with the birds chirping, the tree cover seemed to bring the temperature down a few degrees. Nearby, several bees hovered around a patch of clover.

The Tunisian Model

The Tunisian embassy and residence boast pollinator gardens. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
The Tunisian embassy and residence boast pollinator gardens. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

While not hosting hives of their own, both the Embassy of Tunisia in downtown Washington and its residence up near Rock Creek park host pollinator gardens, and herb gardens. The embassy, located on an island in the city, is one of the few along that strip of Massachusetts Avenue to have such resting spots for pollinators. As I wandered among the plants, a bee - who's to say from where? - came to rest on one before me. 

Additional Models

An exchange of bees at the Canadian embassy. Photo credit: Molly McCluskey
An exchange of bees at the Canadian residence. Photo by Molly McCluskey.

While each diplomatic property often strives to reflect the ethos of its host country, its embassy does not operate within its own ecosystem. Bees are one of the clearest signs of environmental codependence, and their decline a harbinger of broader failures. It will take more than grand summitry to solve the crisis of pollinator decline. With a variety of options, nearly any embassy can incorporate pollinator-friendly solutions, whether they have large plots of land, or hardly any at all, or window ledges available for gardens, or defense ministers with a few pieces of scrap wood and kind neighbors.

Does your diplomatic property have vegetable gardens, xeriscaping, beehives, solar panels, wildlife corridors, or other environmentally-friendly features? Please get in touch for an upcoming story at editors @ diplomaticourier.org or nominate a property for inclusion in our Diplomatica series via this form. 

About
Molly McCluskey
:
Molly McCluskey is an international investigative journalist and creator of Diplomatica. Follow her on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.