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Lafarge: honey bees hard at work reclaiming aggregate sites

Russell Hixson
Lafarge: honey bees hard at work reclaiming aggregate sites
WILLIAM GOWDY — A beekeeper checks on a hive in Villenueve, Alta. The bees are used to help pollinate new plant growth at decommissioned aggregate mining sites.

Global aggregate producer Lafarge has found a sweet way to reclaim areas in Alberta impacted by mining. 

Lafarge has been partnering with environmental consultants at Acden Vertex to establish bee colonies near mining areas that are ready to be reclaimed. The bees then help pollinate the area and re-establish plant biodiversity. 

“Biodiversity is certainly important and anytime you can have a nature-based solution to promote these habitats and re-establish ecosystems is really important,” said William Gowdy, Lafarge’s manager of sustainability and environment in Northern Alberta. “From a reclamation standpoint they just make a lot of sense. They help establish vegetation.”

Lafarge first got involved with bees in Canada when it joined the Fort McMurray Bee Project, a pilot project that explored using hives to help reclaim industrial sites in colder climates. Lafarge joined the project in 2019 as an industry partner, providing a decommissioned gravel pit site that was in need of reclamation near the Fort McMurray Airport. 

Acden Vertex helped Lafarge establish hives along the edge of the pit in low traffic areas near pollen sources. However, the hives had to be pulled out after a few months due to curious bears, but not until after producing a whopping 130 pounds of honey. 

“It works in the north, which at the time wasn’t totally known,” said Gowdy. “They can make it through the winter and get to work when its warm.”

He added it was also critical to find the right type of bees that could survive the north’s frigid winters. 

Lafarge has since deployed hives in Villeneuve, Alta. with great success. 

Gowdy, who trained and worked extensively as a geologist, said he and many others at Lafarge have enjoyed learning the ins and outs of a new skill: beekeeping.

Acden Vertex ran them through training courses that taught them how to encourage sustainable hive growth, watch for diseases and increase survival. 

The team starts out with a “nucleus” hive of about 10,000 bees, including a queen. That quickly can grow to 40,000 if the team is careful to give bees room to grow in their hives and watch for diseases.

If hives get too crowded, swarms will form and break off from it.

Gowdy noted they saw a single hive gain 75 pounds in honey, eggs and wax in just three weeks. And they recently harvested more than 300 pounds of raw honey from all their Villeneuve hives. 

“Bees are fascinating,” said Gowdy. “They are incredibly predictable, incredibly structured. They will return to the hive and do a dance to point to where the others can find a pollen source and how far it is. There are all these fascinating little things about how they work and live.”

In addition to being a source of honey, entertainment and pride for Lafarge employees, Gowdy explained it is simply the right thing to do for the world. 

“When you do aggregate operations it is an interim land use,” he said. “There is certainly a disturbance when you are working but it can revert back into wetland, forest or agricultural areas and then you are getting multiple uses out of one piece of land.”

Gowdy added one-third of the world’s food supply depends on bee pollination and establishing more hives helps fight against the decline of hives. 

“Our survival is going to depend on this stuff,” said Gowdy.

For more of our interview with Gowdy, check out The Construction Record podcast here.

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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