With its black and gold stripes, translucent wings and furry body, the bee is a common sight in our green spaces. But how important is the bee, and what is happening to in the UK?
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, approximately 80% of all flowering plants pollinated by animals, mostly insects (which includes bees). Without pollination, many of our vegetables, fruits and crops we depend on would fail. Bees themselves specifically pollinate broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, apricots, strawberries, apples, tomatoes and almonds, amongst many others.
It has been estimated that it would cost farmers in the UK an incredible £1.8 billion per year to manually pollinate their crops, which just further emphasises the importance of bees.
There are over 250 species of bee in the UK, but multiple species are suffering from population declines, with some even close to extinction. Habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate change are pushing some species to the brink, and if bees suffer then we suffer.
At Greenwich, we are committed to sensitively managing our grounds, with our Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) 2020-2025 outlining how this occurs. To help engagement, education and conservation we have beehives across all three campuses.
As well as being pollinators, honey bees, Apis mellifera, also produce honey. This sweet golden liquid is a valuable product not only for its delicious taste, but also for its medicinal properties and the fact it is so energy dense. All of our beehives are managed by external licenced beekeepers. Before going into the hives at each campus, it is important to know that beehives will not solve the overall bee population declines. Honeybees can outcompete native bees, making it important that our hive numbers are limited, and are sensitively controlled to ensure there are no depletions within the native bee populations. A collection of beehives is called an apiary.
Avery Hill – Apiary One – Eltham Bees
Apiary One is situated behind our pond of the Edible Garden, and is managed by Colin Edwards and Eltham Bees. Eltham Bees are a small family business running 80+colonies around Eltham down as far as Wilmington.
“I’ve always loved working with the bees having worked alongside a beefarmer in my teens!!” Colin Edwards
Sustainability is a big part of their ethos. Their hives are made in the UK from local red cedar. Over the years they moved away from foreign queens and now run all UK bred queens. Our breeders’ queens are UK mated using the Buckfast strain from the West Country & Scotland. They try to recycle and upcycle equipment when possible and recycle their our own beeswax for new wax foundation sheets adding to our sterilised wooden frames that have been in service before.
Eltham Bees produces 100’s of honey jars, find out where to buy them (though we do have some donated for competition prizes!) by checking out their website!
Avery Hill – Apiary Two – John & Christine Hird
Located in the green behind Southwood House, John and Christine Hird have been looking after this apiary since 2012. They have trained a number of staff and students to help over the years, and donate a few jars each year for prizes.
Producing about 80 jars a year, you will also find this honey for sale within the SU Village Shop!
Greenwich – Apiary One – Paul Youthed
This apiary is located by Devonport Hotel, with Paul Youthed kindly taking on its upkeep in October 2020 (following previous keeper Camilla’s move to Scotland).
Paul has apiaries across London and is a National Park City Ranger working with community, business and local government to help make London a better place for bees and people. We cannot wait to try the first jars of honey produced from these hives! You can find out more about Paul on his website.
Greenwich – Apiary Two – Bee-Naturals
Paul Vagg, aka Bee-Naturals is our newest keeper, looking after the apiary that can be found in a truly unique location, roof garden 1 on our Stockwell Street Library. Paul has looked after this area since June 2021. He also boosts the recognition of being awarded the Best Beekeeper of the year, twice! You can find out more about Bee-Naturals including their products for sale from his website.
Medway – Apiary
Medway only has one apiary; known locally as ‘John the bee man’, John has been looking after this apiary for nearly 10 years.
The honey produced from these hives are sold internally through staff in the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), but you will find some as donated prizes from time to time. Around 20 people have been trained through these hives over the years, making it a valuable education tool.