Filed under: Conservation, Environment | Tags: BBC Radio 4, Cardiff Vale and Valley's Beekeeping Association, For the bees, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Urban Beekeeping, Varroa Mite, Welsh Beekeeping Association
The Plight of the Bumble Bee
There’s been plenty of coverage over recent years of the falling numbers of bee populations and the implications this holds for us in terms of food – fewer bees – fewer crops get pollinated.
There are many theories behind why the bees seem to be giving up on us, ranging from falling biodiversity, to parasites and diseases like the Varroa mite, and the very wet summers we’ve seen over the last few years.
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Could things be looking up?
However, things do seem to be looking up for the humble bumble bee and his 249 other cousins.
Welsh Beekeepers are feeling optimistic about the season ahead. Bee colonies have managed to survive through the harshest winter we’ve had for 30 years because although it’s been cold it’s also been relatively dry, meaning that in milder temperatures foraging bees have been able to get out and collect pollen.
The recent good news that disease free Queen Bees will now be posted from the Isle of Man to try and bolster populations here is also instilling hope.
This coupled with the increased public interest in the art of bee keeping itself should mean the bees have a fighting chance of survival – in what’s been dubbed the latest craze to hit suburbia, the terms ‘urban beekeeping‘ or ‘backyard beekeeping’ are becoming the norm in beekeeping circles.
‘Massive’ influx of keen new beekeepers
However, it seems that Beekeeping Associations in Wales are finding it hard to cope with the influx of new members.
Some clubs say they’ve noticed an increase of up to 50 per cent, and John King who is chairman of the Cardiff Vale and Valley’s Beekeeping Association says he’s got more students than ever.
In normal years John says there’d be 8-10 new members of which 5 or 6 may have taken beekeeping up properly. This year there’s been fifty new recruits of which forty are showing a keen interest in keeping it up.
As a result resources are stretched and people in his club are working all hours trying to keep things going. It’s also a simple case of supply and demand, in that there just aren’t enough bees to go around.
You can’t set up an Apiary overnight
John also said there’s been interest from people who are keen to start straight away but are disappointed when they find out it takes time to get set up.
One of the problems we get is that people think , oh I’ve done the course now, I can get everything and the bees will come overnight. The biggest hindrance we have at the moment is bees, because we have suffered losses over the last two years and are trying to rebuild our stocks, and we’re reluctant to deplete them to pass them onto new beekeepers
Beekeeping is a year round hobby, and requires commitment like looking after any pet. One of John’s students Gareth Harvey has been keeping bees for around two years and says it’s not like having a dog – it requires weeks of training and he’s always learning.
What does the future have in store?
It’s obvious that the media exposure surrounding the threat to bee populations has done a great deal to encourage new people to get involved.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales has a bee garden that can be home to up to a million bees each summer, and a Big Brother style viewing gallery with CCTV cameras so you can get really close to the action.
There are also public art schemes in the pipeline. ‘For the bees‘ is an art project devised by Swansea based artists Owen Griffiths and Fern Thomas who are both embarking on beekeeping for the first time.
They hope to harness the sound of the swarm by working with composers to make a piece of choral music – a project that has already been spotted by BBC Radio 4.
Whatever the future does have in store for the bee, there are plenty of people out there who are working hard to stop the decline.
And now with the British Government making bees a priority, and the Welsh Assembly becoming more involved, Beekeepers from novice to experienced will certainly be hoping that the numbers will start to rise again.