Things are looking up for honeybees as a small but significant number of people are looking for new ways to support their continued existence. The commercial world has latched on in the form of the Beehaus - plastic horizontal beehives that were launched in high excitement this summer. I don't think it's a good idea, because plastic beehives aren't great for bees, who like natural materials that breathe, to live in. But urban beekeeping is the general trend, as there's far more biodiversity and fewer pesticides in towns. Yesterday's You and Yours featured the urban beekeeping phenomenon. It appears that the Cooperative Bank has funded a movement to populate the allotments of Manchester with bees - next stop London and Birmingham.
But more and more people are questioning the promotion of this 'traditional' way of beekeeping, which has remained unchanged for 100 years. This involves taking off almost all the winter honey supplies and feeding the bees with sugar over the winter - surely a disaster for their immune system. It involves going through the brood - the intimate core of the integrated bee colony - every 10 days during the main flow to check for pre-swarm queen cells. And it involves chemical intervention for disease instead of creating a terrain for general good bee health.
The Soil Association this summer launched a campaign to get the government to ban nicotinamides, which have been found to be one of the causes of colony collapse disorder. The British Beekeepers Association, still the source of most of the standard beekeeping courses, receives sponsorship funding from Bayer, a major manufacturer of nicotinamides. So beekeepers are having to flout their association and go to the Soil Association's petition.
New forms of beekeeping are emerging - or perhaps a revival of old forms based on an old, indigenous, more caretaking attitude towards bees and nature in general. One of the pioneers, Biobees, last week launched the Natural Beekeeping Network, which is also a research arm as well as supporting top-bar beekeeping. More locally, in Ashurstwood near Forest Row, the Natural Beekeeping Trust, based on biodynamic beekeeping, also launched last weekend. They have two courses coming up in October. For more about biodynamic beekeeping, read this page.
Lewes's walled, biodiverse gardens were once full of beehives. Wouldn't it be lovely if Lewes's gardens, allotments and parks were, in a couple of years, buzzing with honeybees? There's already a bunch of us supporting, mulling or experimenting. Contact me if you'd like to get involved.