Sainsbury’s has recruited its first bee keeper as it gears up to roll out a network of ‘bee hotels’ at 38 stores across London.

Sainsbury’s has hired bee expert Robin Dean to set up and maintain its network of bee hotels with the aim of helping the UK’s dwindling bee population. The initiative is part of the grocer’s ‘Respect for the Environment’ programme.

Dean said: “I guess I’m not your average supermarket employee, but the work I’m doing will help protect the long term future of the food Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets sell.

“Bees are the unsung hero of the food chain, as most fresh fruit and veg depends on bees for pollination. We hope that by setting these bee hotels up at a network of stores across the city, we’ll be able to help rejuvenate the bee population, and learn more about why the population has decreased so dramatically over the past few years.”

The bee hotels are designed to offer an ideal habitat for bees to raise larvae, which are collected by Dean and incubated until they are ready to be placed back into the hotel to hatch.

He added: “Solitary bees are different to honey bees. They live in isolation rather than as part of a hive. They don’t make honey, so have nothing to protect, making them docile and very unlikely to sting, so customers need not worry!

“This is groundbreaking work by Sainsbury’s, which will help increase the ailing bee population as well as hopefully provide academics with a greater understanding of why bee numbers started to decline in the first place.”

Sainsbury’s introduced several trial bee hotels at its eco-store in Dursley earlier this year. Solitary bees have since taken up residence, attracted by the specially sown wildflower meadow planted around the store.

Neil Sachdev, Sainsbury’s commercial director, said: “Customers expect us to continue to innovate as we strive to do the right thing for the environment and for biodiversity in particular.

“We recognise that if we are to continue to sell fresh British produce in the long term, we are going to have to look at the problem of declining bee population and do our bit to help solve the problem.

“When we’ve gained an understanding of how well the bee hotels work in these stores, we might well consider making them a standard feature of Sainsbury’s supermarkets nationwide.”

In most cases, the hotels will be situated on the roofs of the  stores that have been ear-marked for the network.