Welsh Green Dragon

Too many Beekeepers and not enough Bees by Chris Halpin

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.

Beginners at the Cardiff Vale and Valleys Beekeeping Association

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.

One thing’s for sure, it’s not a packaged hobby you can buy in a kit, despite the numerous products and starter kits on sale.

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.

And there are many other projects which are also helping people to understand and engage with bees in new ways, from planting bee friendly plants in your garden to adopting a bee hive.

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.


5 Comments so far
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Cardiff, vale & Valleys BKA Also have a training apairy at Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan, which was established in May 2009 and managed by Harold Williams and myself

Comment by Barbara Chick

My concern is over buying in queens from any where. I feel it is better to breed from your own local bees, imported bees often fail or become “nasty” after 2 or 3 seasons – your local bee is used to prevalent conditions in your area. Losing colonies should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing, breed/make increase from those who survive well.

Comment by Pete Edwards

Just read the text. – I am new to beekeeping, it is my third full season. Talking to others in Cambridge we have a very similar situation. In the past there has been a guarantee that those starting up after doing the beginner’s course would be supplied with bees. Now they are being told that might not be the case and that they may have to buy bees in or wait for a swarm. This means we are breeding bees in the area with a tendency to swarm. How bad a thing this is is open for debate. My own view is that there are enough people in the area who could produce nucs. Though as I am in the process of changing my production method to top bar hives I am not sure how well nucs on top bars would go down with those who have learned the frame way.
Sadly there are not nearly enough people in the local association who seem to want to get involved in producing more bees for those starting up.


Comment by Dave Jackson

If anyone would like to join our bee choir in Swansea where we will be singing to the bees in attempt to make them better contact us at owenandfern@yahoo.co.uk

many thanks

owen and fern
for the bees

Comment by owenandfern

[…] 8, 2010 in about bees, publicity click here to read an article that references For the Bees and discusses the threat to bees and the influx of […]

Pingback by For the Bees featured in new beekeepers article « for the bees

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