Keeping bees on the allotment

The bee population in the UK is experiencing a dramatic decline.

Bees are important pollinators for our allotment crops and flowers. Bumble bees along with honey and wild bees are suffering following a poor summer last year and are not fairing well this year either. There are around 18 true bumble bee species and many are seriously under threat due to the loss of their habitats. Bumble bees are the major pollinators of our plants and vegetables and if they continue to disappear our plants will be unable to set seed which will result in sweeping changes to they way we grow our food. Gardeners are urged to plant more wildflowers and insect friendly plants (more information here) in their gardens to help the bees in their fight for survival.

BEEKEEPING ON ALLOTMENTS - Some thoughts and expereices by Peter Hunkin (SWCAA Cornwall Representative)

"I kept my hives on my allotment in Saltash Cornwall. The hives were situated on the southernmost extremity of my plot, facing south over open countryside which consists of a railway cutting and blackthorn bushes. The hives were angled so that the entrances face away from my neighbours.

I also retained or planted bushes or small trees to screen the hives, as well as putting up a temporary screen on one side to make the bees fly clear of my neighbour should they decide to fly that way. The apiary was also on the boundary of our allotment site" (An apiary is also known as a bee yard and is a place where bee hives of honey bees are kept)

It is important to site beehives so that the entrances face away from allotment paths and preferably other allotments. This is to keep the bees flightpaths clear so that mid-air collisions with human beings cna be prevented! In a collision, bee and human get frightened, the bee defends itself in the only way it knows, and stings the human! Another possibility is to put fencing panels, screens or bushes around the hives or facing the entrances so that the bees have to "fly high" when they com out of their hives.

Bees are not naturally aggressive in this country but, like any creature, they are defensive of their colony and especially their honey. Bees can become aggressive by cross-breeding, interbreeding or bad beekeeping. This can usually be rectified by changing the Queen to one from a colony that is know to be gentle. Some races of bees are recognised as being gentle e.g. Buckfast, Italian, Carniolan. The BBKA's very strong view is that members should not be keeping aggressive or bad-tempered bees - to avoid litigation and to keep beekeeping's good name with the public. Stories of super-aggressive "Africanised" bees are nonsense in this country at present - it's too cold for them to survive!

IT IS ESSENTIAL TO HAVE THE LANDOWNERS PERMISSION.

In our current litigation inclined society, landlords or local authorities may be concerned about claims arising from members of the public getting stung. BBKA membership includes public liability insurance of 5 million against claims. The BBKA leaflet should also help to "persuade" reluctant landlords that bees are not dangerous. The British Beekeepers Association have published members guidelines and can offer advice. They are also conducting a survey of members' experiences of keeping, trying to keep or being refused permission to keep bees on allotments. Your county or local beekeeping association can also advise, and may even be able to provide a tame beekeeper who wants a site and would be prepared to use an allotment site.

If you think you may be interested in keeping bees on your allotment or maybe you have a site ideal for housing a host hive you can download the BBKA first steps beginners guide to beekeeping here

The biggest threat to the honey bee at present is from the varroa mite. The mites feed on both adult bees and larvae, weakening them and spreading harmful pathogens such as bee viruses. Infested colonies eventually die out unless control measures are applied. More info on this mite can be found on the defra website here

Bee Base https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/public/register.cfm

British Beekeepers Association - http://www.britishbee.org.uk/index.php

North Devon Beekeepers Association - http://www.northdevonbees.org/

Cornwall Beekeepers Association  - http://www.cbka.co.uk

Kent Beekeepers Association  - http://www.kentbee.com/

London Beekeepers Association - http://www.lbka.org.uk/

Essex Beekeepers Association - http://www.ebka.org/

Welsh Beekeepers Association - http://www.wbka.com/