Local beekeepers tend their hives to keep our planet healthy and alive

The decline of bees is an issue which is affecting pollination worldwide. Here in Oundle, members of the town have invested in beehives, and have become involved in The Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s vision to enrich and support wildlife and habitat diversity. Halting and reversing the decline of bees is something that can only be combatted if local communities, such as Oundle, engage and immerse themselves in the project.

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The decline of bees has been largely due to pesticides, diseases and habitat loss. New technology and increased demand for food production have meant that traditional agricultural practices have changed and been replaced by new techniques with increased productivity. However, these new techniques have ultimately resulted in reduced habitat and wildflowers, leaving bees with very little to eat.

Both flowers and bees are held in a cycle of equilibria where bees rely upon flowers for their survival to the same extent that flowers rely on bees. Today, with the decline of bees, this cycle is unbalanced, leaving conservationists concerned about the potential disastrous effect on plant pollination. Bees perform 80% of all pollination worldwide with a single colony having the ability to pollinate 300 million plants each day.

Not only are bees crucial in terms of pollination but they also are economically beneficial, contributing £400 million per annum to the UK’s economy and 14.2 billion euros per annum to the EU. If the decline in bees continues, the cost of hand pollinating these plants could significantly increase the cost of fruit and vegetables. Therefore, local beekeepers play a vital role in the rearing of healthy colonies in order to help maintain constant levels of insect-pollination.

Experienced beekeeper, David Chapman oversees three hives in Oundle, alongside two other beekeepers and a group of Oundle School students.

In addition to the farming practices and pesticides that are causing the decline of bees, he attributes their decline to disease. ‘One of the biggest problems is the growth of diseases that are transmitted by the Varroa and Nosema mites, which suck the blood of the bees, and transmit viruses that cause genetic defects within the colony,’ he said.

These mites used to be combatted by the use of chemicals, which can no longer be used in honey production. Beekeepers have had to switch to the use of perforated bottom boards which are meant to expel the mites from the hive. However, Mr Chapman said: ‘These boards do not have any significant effect’; an opinion that is supported by studies at Cornell University.

In Oundle, the hives are carefully monitored and maintained, and the beekeepers are able to successfully harvest and produce a number of bee-made products, including different types of honey made at different times of the year.

Beekeeper Harriet Hopper explained: ‘The colour and texture of the honey we make is dependent on the different times of year that the honey is collected. At the beginning of the season, honey is light coloured and hard (due to the bees collecting nectar from oil seed rape), whereas at the end of the season, honey is dark and runny with a strong smell and taste.’

Honey is not the only product that is made from the hives; the team also makes bee’s wax candles and lip balms .

The Oundle hives are kept in a special bee-friendly garden planted with flowers to which bees are particularly attracted. In cities such as London, the creation of similar garden spaces is something that is being particularly encouraged to support a conservation strategy involving ‘B-lines’. This is a project that is aims to connect London’s greenspaces with wildflower plantings that create pathways through which bees may travel.

The decline of bees is a global issue, but is something that can be tackled locally. The beekeepers in Oundle demonstrate how simple it is to support bees, you don’t even need to invest in a hive. The simple act of planting bee-friendly flowers, rather than the typical tulips in your garden will make a difference.

Although humans are the underlying cause of the two most prominent causes of bee decline: pesticides and habitat loss, we can all do our little bit to help combat this issue, which left alone, could have a disastrous effect on the planet.

Lucy Cairns
December 2017

Photo credit: Judah Stephenson