How you can play your part in safeguarding Britain’s bees

by Charlotte.Barnes on April 21, 2011

Bees, as pollinators of flowers, are extremely important to us, and with their numbers in decline, we caught up with Brian Ripley, Chairman of the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), to find out what we can all do to help….

Interflora is running a campaign to help bees, so I began by asking why bees are so important to us and was staggered to learn that one third of every mouthful of food we eat is dependent on pollination.

Brian went on to say that “it’s the foods we like to eat and those that give us great nutrients – such as apples and pears – and these are exactly the sort of foods that also add colour to the countryside”.

So what practical steps can we all take to encourage them?

“We can all make sure there are plenty of things for bees to pollinate. The British Beekeepers’ Association website has a number of leaflets available to download, including information on bee-friendly trees and shrubs.”

Will gardeners see benefits from doing something to encourage bees?

If they grow fruit or vegetables they will definitely see benefits. If they can make sure all pollinators are there in abundance then their peas, beans and fruit will be prolific.”

Of all the bee species in the UK which most need our help?

“In reality it’s the honey bee that most needs our help. Bumblebees and wasp colonies die before the winter and the queens hibernate until the spring. With honey bees it’s different – they are there all winter, albeit in much smaller numbers.”

What is the main threat to our indigenous bees?

“The main threat in the UK is the varroa mite, which is now endemic. It arrived in 1992 and is spreading. If a beekeeper doesn’t treat the colony it will be dead within three years as the mite weakens the colony and it is then that viruses develop. Another threat that’s being closely monitored is the Asian hornet, which is now in Brittany. British government agencies are watching for it as there is a worry it will make its way here.”

Are British bees under threat from colony collapse disorder (CCD)?

“There is no record of any significant problem here in the UK. However, the USA has lost tens of thousands of colonies to it. Everyone has their own theory on what causes it, but it’s been blamed on various things, including the varroa mite and pesticides.”

What would you say to someone thinking about keeping bees?

“I would thoroughly recommend it. It’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s totally mind-consuming as you need to learn how to understand why your bees are doing what they’re doing. The fact you keep them doesn’t stop them being wild so you need to understand why they’re behaving in a certain way and then you have to think about it. It’s a very interesting hobby and of course, there’s the payback in honey.

“Proper training is of paramount importance. Without it you’ll buy lots of equipment but won’t understand how to properly look after the bees and they will be likely to die. It probably costs around £600-£700 to set up an initial hive. The investment would be in the training, a proper beekeeping suit and other things. When you offset the cost against around 200 jars of honey it will probably pay for itself in three or four years. Once you are ready for a second hive the outlay would be much lower and around £150.”

The BBKA runs an Adopt-a-Beehive scheme. Can you tell us more?

“I want the general public to understand bees are under threat and this scheme allows people to help maintain the bee population and in a way to become armchair beekeepers. For £29.50 plus p&p you get to choose a beekeeper to follow. You’ll receive fact sheets, honey, four newsletters a year and a quarterly pamphlet from your chosen beekeeper detailing the trials and tribulations of looking after his or her colony.

“Essentially the scheme allows everyone – wherever they live – to become informed on bees and beekeeping. Hopefully they will become the beekeepers of the future.”

For more information visit the British Beekeepers’ Association

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Charlotte Barnes

Post category: Bee Awareness, Knowledge  

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