By Ariel Miller, ESRAG Newsletter Editor

“Alone in our district we can’t do much.  Together, we were able to do something wonderful!” In 2021-22, all 18 French District Governors teamed up to rebuild pollinator populations across France, Luxembourg, Andorra, Monaco, and D2160 in Belgium. PDG Pierre Hageman (D1700 shared how they did it in an interview for ESRAG a few months after the project’s hugely successful completion.

Collectively, a thousand participating clubs sold 50,000 rosebushes, raising over 450,000 Euros and using the proceeds to donate 2,000 hives and 3,000 bee hotels to beekeepers, apiculture training programs, schools and towns, as well 3,000 traps for Asiatic hornets – a major predator against bees – and tons of seed for flowering plants that add prized flavors to honey.  This multinational project generated huge goodwill and hundreds of news reports about Rotary Clubs, including an article in the world-renowned Le Figaro. 

The total cost to clubs and districts?  Zero.

Here’s how they did it.

“Eighteen months before we started our district governor year, the French DGNs met at Rotary headquarters in Zurich to brainstorm.” PDG Pierre explains. “Our initial idea was to plant a Rotary forest.” But if that was in a single location, governors in other districts would have nothing to show for it. Then the inspired idea of “des rosiers pour une ruche-“  rosebushes for a hive – was born.  The DGNs worked out a plan to order rosebushes at wholesale price from France’s major supplier, sell them at a markup of 7-10 Euros each, and use the proceeds to provide hives built in France from local wood, as well as the other project supplies.  The campaign organizers provided participating clubs with flyers, order forms, and the contact information for local beekeepers and apiculture training programs.

One of the project flyers: “plant some roses and save the bees!”

Over 1,000 clubs across four Francophone nations used the campaign to educate their communities about the disastrous decline in pollinator populations and to build local capacity to restore them.  This project provided a perfect vehicle to publicize participating clubs and showcase Rotary’s new Environment Area of Focus. Flyers explained that the rosebushes were raised without pesticides or fungicides. The hives are stamped “Rotary Club.” Several clubs have added plaques to the hives they installed in public places, like the sign “Rotary protects the environment” in the Jardins des Plantes in Rouen.

Each district provided added incentive by providing recognition to Rotarians who sold the most rosebushes. “One lady sold 650!” says PDG Pierre.  “Clubs were happy about the roses, happy about the hives – happy to have done this!”

It was essential that the French DGs planned ahead: the supplier needed to prepare a year in advance to have 50,000 shrubs ready for the 2021-22 Rotary year. The campaign ran from November 21, 2021 to May 20, 2022, World Bee Day.  Reporter Christophe Courjon collected poignant stories for a story in the August 2022 issue of Rotary Mag, the monthly Rotary magazine for francophone nations worldwide. Because honey is expensive, many hives are stolen, he reported.  After thieves stole 48 hives from beekeeper Pascal Denis, the Rotary Club of Arras Coeur gave him the proceeds of their rose sale, allowing him to rebuild his business.  “Rotarians came to see me in the market,” Denis said. “I didn’t know what to say.  It is an extraordinary deed.” “A hive costs about $100,” notes PDG Pierre. “If a Rotary Club gives a beekeeper five hives, that saves him $500.”

Students at the beekeeping school in the Jardins de Luxembourg in Paris with hives donated by Rotarians. On the right, in Rotary blue, is PDG Didier Regnier. Photo by PDG Pierre Hageman, D1717

Rotarians donated hives to local apiculture training programs – thereby advancing biodiversity careers – as well as to several hundred schools. This created opportunities to connect Rotarians, Interact Clubs, and beekeepers who donated swarms and helped ensure that the hives have healthy queens. Some hives have glass backs so children can watch the bees at work, says PDG Pierre.  Courjon reports how a beekeeper is using a hive donated by the RC Pornichet Saint-Lazaire to raise children’s awareness of the need to protect biodiversity. Rotarians in Montpelllier provided a hive to a school serving children with psychological problems. The students lovingly decorated it with vegetable dye paints that do not contain any toxins that would harm the bees.

A small portion of the sale price for each rose was dedicated to publicity. PDG Pierre Hageman coordinated the campaign’s public relations, contracting with a PR firm that used shrewd (and charming) strategies.  “It’s hard to get reporters’ attention,” Hageman says. “We put a press release on a thumb drive, with some honeycomb, inside a tiny hive that was delivered by a special driver with instructions to deliver it to the journalist in person. Under no circumstances was he to leave it with the receptionist!”

Planting rosebushes and donating hives provided a great opportunity for Rotarians to connect with public officials as well. “The Normandy region and District 1640 have the same geographic contour, which promotes the visibility of Rotary” reports Courjon in Rotary Mag. “Regional President Hervé Marin and [D 1640] Governor Pascal Quinty took part in a rose-planting event at the Regional Council’s gardens in Caen.”

“Operation Des rosiers pour une ruche was a first,” Christophe Courjon concluded. “Under the framework of defending the environment, through partnership with beekeeping professionals and amateurs, elected officials, and media, this embodied a national dimension that contributed eventually to the visibility of Rotary.  An action that goes far beyond offering a flower to the bees.”