'A hobby that became our life' - The Norfolk beekeepers buzzing for 2021
- Credit: Danielle Booden
They are among nature’s marvels - pollinating everything from flowers to fruit and veg and even berries and herbs. STUART ANDERSON spoke to a couple who had built a life around bees.
Donning a full-body suit and stepping into the home of thousands of tiny creatures is not everybody’s idea of a workout.
But Lynne Pettit, 66, said lifting the heavy hive frames at the Stiffkey Valley Apiary had proven to be a surefire way of keeping fit.
“You don’t need to go to the gym if you’re a beekeeper,” she said.
“It’s hard work, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. You know when they are doing the waggle dance.
"When you can see different coloured pollen coming in you can work out, perhaps, what they’re working on. It might be different flowers or sea lavender or blackberries."
Mrs Pettit took up beekeeping 26 years ago after long fascination with the insects.
She was later joined by husband, Guy, 66, and they produce jars of honey which they sell locally.
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Mrs Pettit said: “On a memorable birthday some friends bought me a hive because one of their parents was a beekeeper and it all went from there. It started out as a hobby that became my life.”
The Pettits have eight hives - each with a single queen - and populations which vary throughout the year from around 40,000 to 80,000 each.
Bees are facing challenges including habitat loss, climate change, pesticides and disease.
Friends of the Earth says the UK has lost 13 species of bee since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction, with no protection under the law.
In January the government came under fire for reversing a ban on neonicotinoids - which are deadly to bees but farmers said were needed to protect disease-ravaged sugar beet crops.
But Mrs Pettit said that, anecdotally at least, the picture looked brighter in north Norfolk, and the couple had got a sense of how well honey bees (apis mellifera) were faring, through their service of removing colonies from buildings.
She said: “We personally dealt with multiple swarm collections in May suggesting in our area bees were thriving – this situation may have not been typical county or country-wide.
“Unfortunately this same process can also spread the latter diseases, if the bees collected are not put onto new undrawn foundation comb.”
Mr Pettit said threats that had affected bees in other parts of Norfolk included American and European foulbrood, which are bacterial diseases.
The Asian hornet, which preys on bees, has also been spotted in other parts of the country in recent years.
Mrs Pettit said anyone wanting to get into beekeeping should join a group such as the Norfolk Beekeepers' Association which offered courses and a support network.
But she said the costs involved - including for suits, gloves and hive equipment - added up quickly.
Mrs Pettit said she and her husband were also willing to help people who were serious about starting an apiary and could set them up with a nuc - a small colony in a box.
“If they are serious we would give them a nuc, but that’s not for the general public, we would have to engage with them first,” she said.
Mrs Pettit said there was always the risk of getting stung, which was something beekeepers got used to.
“On a summer’s day, if the bees have got a lot of honey on them, they will let you know," she said.
Mrs Pettit said although the swarms shrank over winter, bees were still active, and particularly on sunny days and if the temperature was high enough they would do ‘“cleansing flights” to remove debris and any invaders from their hives.
She said: “We’re hoping the summer will be as good as last year.
“They need a combination of things - if you set them up so they come through winter strong and with an adequate food supply you’ve given them everything they need to go out and pollinate.”