Why Beekeeping Is the Latest Buzz Down on the Allotment; the Number of Active Hives Has Soared as More and More People Are Keeping Bees and Making Honey, Rin Simpson Writes

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 9, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Beekeeping Is the Latest Buzz Down on the Allotment; the Number of Active Hives Has Soared as More and More People Are Keeping Bees and Making Honey, Rin Simpson Writes


Byline: Rin Simpson

Did you know that one in every three mouthfuls of food we eat is dependent on pollination? Or that this pollination benefit is worth millions of pounds to the economy, helping crops to produce up to 40% more yield? Yes, the humble honey bee is a valuable asset to society, before you even start thinking about honey, wax and royal jelly.

And more and more people are starting to realise it. In fact, there's been a quiet revolution going on in gardens and allotments, on farms and even city rooftops over the past few years. Beekeeping is back in fashion, in a big way.

John King, chairman of the Cardiff, Vale and Valleys Beekeepers Association, has been keeping bees for 14 years, ever since a next door neighbour gave him a swarm for his allotment in Treforest, and has noticed a marked increase in interest since he took up the hobby.

"It's become more popular in the last six years," he confirmed. "In 2003/4 we were down to 35 members; membership at the moment is in the region of 140. It's an amazing increase.

"We started teaching beekeeping and we were there ready when the movement came down the M4 from London and we haven't looked back.

"Six years ago there were 12 people on the course, two years ago there were 60 - we couldn't actually cope with that many!" John is 63 and a retired teacher, but all sorts of different people attend the club's courses, and the average age has dropped significantly in recent years.

"We've got one person who's about 83 who is being helped by his grandson, and then we've got another one who is in university and he's 20," he said.

"So we've got all sorts of ages, all sorts of professions; lots of manual workers, professional people, retired people. And from all locations: Caerphilly, Newbridge, Blackwood, Newport."

John credits the media for the increase in interest in bees and beekeeping. There have been countless news bulletins and documentaries about the plight of the British bee and how important these little creatures are in the ecology, the food chain and the economy.

And so a trend has begun, not just in the country but in cities all over the UK. High-end London department store Fortnum & Mason's, for example, has hives on its roof - and a waiting list of customers desperate to get their hands on the exclusive honey they produce.

In fact urban beekeeping has been a big part of the increase in this relatively specialist hobby, with roof tops making excellent spots on which to locate a new colony. And bees do very well in cities, according to commercial beekeeper Peter Shaw.

"There's a microclimate which makes it slightly warmer, there are no sprays from farmers and a great diversity of trees and plants and flowers, like window boxes and hanging baskets," he explained.

"There isn't the monoculture of crops like rape, which there can be in the countryside. So they do very well in the city, much to the envy of people in the countryside."

Peter, 62, a former civil servant from Bassaleg outside Newport, has been keeping bees for 36 years, even taking on a job as a local bee inspector at one time.

He went into business full time three years ago, and he and his two partners now have 115 hives at Lisvane Honey Farm in north Cardiff, selling bees, beekeeping equipment, honey, wax and other bee products, as well as running courses. But his interest began on a purely personal basis.

"I was at the Royal Welsh Show and I wandered into the beekeeping tent," he recalled. "I didn't know any beekeepers at the time but I rashly went out and bought some bees and some hives.

"For the first two years I struggled on, made lots of mistakes, but they survived. Then the local seasonal bee inspector came along and took me under his wing and tutored me and one hive became two and two became six."

Finding experts to come alongside you is definitely the best way to get started in beekeeping, according to both John and Peter, whether you know someone who has an interest or whether you join the local beekeepers association and pair up with a mentor, as Elaine Spence did. …

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