Bees are at risk in the UK. Here’s why we should be fighting to keep our stripey friends safe.
I’ve always been a big fan of bees. These industrious little insects are my spirit creatures - always busy, always productive and always making things beautiful (they just happen to use pollen, whereas I favour textiles and ceramics!).
But the worrying news is that in Wales bee numbers have been declining for 30 years, reflecting a global trend: bees are in trouble. Their environments are becoming hostile through the use of pesticides, climate change and expanding urban areas and their food sources are in decline. We can survive, just, without bees, but our diet would be pretty boring and our landscapes would certainly be drab without their hard work.
We’d also be missing the whopping £400 million they contribute to the economy each year and we’d struggle to produce our current volumes of crops - a third of UK food is pollen-dependent.
However it’s not all doom and gloom. As a nation that proudly promotes and supports sustainability, Wales is ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting pollinators. At the Royal Welsh Show in 2012, Alun Davies committed the Welsh Government to producing an action plan to protect pollinators, focusing on education in schools, ensuring allotment space across the country and ensuring bee-friendly land management practices.
The Action Plan for Pollinators in Wales was launched in 2013, and the educational initiative Caru Gwenyn (Bee Friendly) aimed at community organisations was also introduced. You might have noticed the work of The Natural Buzz Project in your area; a Keep Wales Tidy project which takes undervalued green spaces (e.g. patches of grass on industrial estates, outside hospitals and schools and road verges) and transforms them from sterile mown sites into masses of wildflowers.
The Wales Biodiversity Partnership provides a thorough overview of partnership pollinator projects taking place right across the country and provides lots of ideas for how we can make a difference to bee populations in our own areas - find out more here.
And wherever you’re based, you can always take a look at the Friends of the Earth Easy Ways to Help Bees tips, where you’ll find gardening ideas, petitions, bee-friendly veg deliveries and gifts to help keep Britain buzzing. You can also search for beekeeping groups and honey producers in your local area to find out more.
In North Wales, we have a surprising number of organisations and businesses working locally to promote and celebrate the work of the humble bee. For example, Kate Hayward at Felin Honeybees - an award-winning farm business teaching people of all ages the importance of honeybees for our environment - offers information and training from Anglesey.
Conwy Beekeepers also organise taster days and courses via their website and the comments are testimony to the number of beekeeping converts they’ve welcomed to their fold. “I simply loved the day,” writes Bob, “a statement in itself which articulates a rare level of enthusiasm from me!”
Aspiring beekeepers can place an order with The Honey Bee Company, who provide everything from a nucleus colony to their best-selling mated Welsh Black Honeybee Queen, with a bee-keeping hardware range coming soon.
And if the enthusiasts are to be believed, beekeeping is a surprisingly therapeutic activity. Lots of time spent outdoors, sharing experiences with other beekeepers, the sense of being part of Britain’s rural history and the satisfaction of producing a valuable foodstuff: honey.
Ah yes, honey - we haven’t even mentioned this delicious liquid gold yet. Well again, the good news is that lots of beekeepers in North Wales means that there’s plenty of the good stuff to go around. Mere Brook Honey sells bees to beekeepers and produces their own honey on the Wirral and in North Wales; they also have a brilliant 2-minute ‘Day in the Life of a Beekeeper’ video on the website filmed using a Go-Pro camera which I challenge you to watch and not be bitten by the beekeeping bug.
There’s also Brian Sacre at Celtic Honeysmith, who produces a number of artisan honey products including Natural Raw Honey, Honey Pickled Shallots and Honey Pickled Onions. You can pop along to the annual Conwy Honey Fair which celebrates North Wales’ long-standing connection with bees and beekeeping and provides an opportunity for local beekeepers to sell their bee and honey-related wares - it takes place in September each year, so get it in your diary for 2019.
And finally, there’s also the National Beekeeping Centre Wales at the Welsh Food Centre in the Conwy Valley. Here you can meet the bees from May to September, do a beekeeping course or craft workshop or treat yourself to a honey soap or scented candle - but the best news is that, whatever you choose to do or spend your money on, you’ll be helping secure the future of bees in Wales.