December 5 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Across this region there are many active bee keeping societies. Annabelle Dickson and Tara Greaves speak to a few of our beekeepers to find out how they have got on.
Carolyne Liston, chairman of the Norfolk Beekeepers’ Association, which currently has 294 members, said last year had been “deeply depressing”.
“There were three problems; the first was the rain which held a lot of things back. Because it was wet, the bees couldn’t go out and forage, which meant they starved.
“I put so much sugar syrup on my hives last year just to make sure they had enough to keep them going.
“The second problem was because the weather was bad and it was cold, the bees were clustering in the brood chambers which meant that as the colonies had expanded they felt like they were overcrowded, which is one of the things which will cause them to swarm.
“Add to that bad weather and unless you’re a very confident, gung-ho bee keeper, it is very difficult to get to inspect them so a lot of swarming signs were missed and the moment the weather broke the bees swarmed and a lot of colonies were lost. The third thing was because the weather was so bad it was difficult for the queens to get mated properly.”
Carolyne, who is in her 10th season of beekeeping, also said that last year a lot of bees were quite difficult to handle because they were bad tempered.
“A lot of people have lost their confidence, which is understandable. The first time you go up to a hive of bees and you squirt it with smoke and hear that roar, you are quite grateful if other people are there because it stops your flight impulse.
“The trouble is, if they are grumpy and they are flying at you, even if they are not stinging, it is intimidating and if you’re not very experienced it can destroy confidence.
“With quite a few people I have spoken to or gone out to see, they are very wary of opening the hives up because they had a bad experience last year.”
Mike Thurlow – who claims to be Norfolk’s only full-time commercial beekeeper – said he is on his knees after years of bee losses.
He keeps honey bees all over Norfolk, but is also a migratory keeper taking his bees to Kent, Warwickshire and the North Yorkshire moors.
He said Norfolk was a poor honey producing county, blaming intensive agriculture and a lack of moisture after spring.
“Honey crops have been going down in the last five or six years, They have more than halved.” And he said that up until 18 months ago they were hit by many of their bees dying.
He put it down to disease and the weather, which had changed over his lifetime.
“We have had drought summers and wet summers. Either of those is bad for bee keeping,” he said.
“Nobody really knows whether it is directly related to bees or down to fungicides and insecticides.”
He said that it had been a more minor problem last year and had not been a problem this year. “My speculation is that I am not doing anything different on the bee-keeping front, but we have been moving apiaries away from some of the intensive agriculture areas. We have done enough shifting of hives around to know what works.”
He called for more resources to research. He estimated that the business had lost £100,000 in revenue over that past decade.
“That is what it has cost us in lost honey and effort and to clear up the mess afterwards,” he said.
Stuart Grant, chairman of the West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Beekeepers’ Association, has seen membership numbers surge from 80 four years ago to just under 200 beekeepers.
He said: “Like a farmer, we are interested in the livestock, but there is an end point of product, which is the honey. Our primary motivation is to keep bees for honey and we are divided into those who are hobbyists, like me who have enough hives and bees to produce a reasonable amount of honey in a decent year and be able to sell it to have a self-sustaining hobby. And then within the UK we also have a bee farmer association, which is dedicated to doing it on a commercial scale. They produce the honey that the larger chains sell,” he said.
“We also believe that we are doing our bit for the environment and for pollination.
“It’s been a long winter and so many of those queens or colonies have either died through starvation or they have not had sufficiently strong colonies to see the winter through.
“We have got beekeepers who have been in the business a very long time who have suffered, while not catastrophic, very difficult losses this last year.” The knock-on impact of all of these problems is that honey is going to be scarce, possibly even more so than last year, although he plays down the significance the problems will have on food production.
“When you look at the history of the honey bee in the wild, it has been around for millions of years. It has adapted to a huge variety of conditions and will no doubt continue to adapt. Whether our human interference with that adaptation process is beneficial or not, I don’t know and I don’t think anyone does. Research is going on all the time into conditions that afflict us today, so let us hope we can find solutions and improve conditions in the future. I don’t feel very pessimistic about it at all.”
He said the jury was out on the controversial neonecotinoids pesticides.
“You have a situation where these materials are primarily used as seed dressings and if the farmers don’t have those sort of methods for insect controls then they will spray with insecticides on growing crops, so it’s almost as if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
“We, as an association and as the BBKA has said, are neutral on the issue, as we don’t have an absolutely clear idea on the effects.”