In recent years, the importance of bees for our ecosystem and how sadly some species are facing decline due to environmental problems has made its way into the limelight.
The Launceston Beekeeping Group are hoping to address these issues by raising awareness of how we can all give bees a little push in the right direction, with rewilding, planting bee-friendly plants and even joining a local beekeeping group being at the forefront of this.
Launceston Life spoke to Paul Burridge, secretary of the Launceston Beekeeping Group, to find out more about the group and his own bees.
Paul keeps two hives of honeybees at his home in Altarnun, but these aren’t the only pollinators in the natural world; there are bumblebees, butterflies, flies, even wasps.
Paul and his wife moved to Altarnun seven years ago after his brother had purchased the land with its previously derelict barns. “He planted fruit trees and we thought it was a good idea to look at beekeeping,” he said. “In October 2019 I attended a four-day intensive course in Truro on the theory of beekeeping and joined the Launceston Beekeeping Group, but parked everything because of Covid.
“I resurrected the idea around 18 months ago, soon after I became the secretary for the Launceston Beekeeping Group.”
Since then the Group provided Apiary visits, training courses, meetings and excellent advice soPaul was able to get more familiar with bees before buying two nucs of his own from local beekeepers. Starting with local bees is a must as they know the environment and by not importing this prevents disease transmission.
“Bees are far less active when it’s cold and rainy, so they mainly stay in their hives from the end of Autumn. Paul continued. “The most tentative time is in February and March, when you see how the bees got on through the winter. Thankfully, mine have survived.”
For those keen on taking on bees, the Launceston Beekeeping Group recommends spending approximately a year familiarising yourself with them, ensuring you are comfortable spending time around buzzing insects and that you’re not likely to have a bad reaction to bee stings.
People have become aware of the issues linked to the environment and how it is affecting bees. If you’re not a beekeeper but would like to help the creatures throughout their lives, the group recommends keeping your gardens as natural and wild as possible, to encourage pollinators into the area. Paul said: “Many people let part or all of their garden grow through the season and cut it back at the end of the year. Ensuring lots of pollinator-friendly plants and forage can grow is very important.”
Like all family units, there is a certain hierarchy in bees - there is the Queen, whose sole purpose is to lay eggs for the entirety of her life; the Worker, the female offspring that maintains, cleans and protects the hive, as well as feeding the young; and the Drone, the male offspring whose role is to mate with other Queens.
With the summer months ahead, the season gets busy for beekeepers as the bees start to enjoy warmer days and increased light.
Paul said: “The beekeeper’s role is very much a husbandry. It's livestock as defined by Defra, so there are certain rules you have to follow and bee inspectors help through your beekeeping career particularly with the various diseases bees can contract.
“At the start of the season, you’re hoping the bees have survived. At this time, they should start producing workers rapidly through the spring into summer, which will be the future of the hive.”
Beekeepers inspect their hives every seven days partly to prevent swarming. By the end of summer a good hive can achieve four or five supers on top full of honey. Once the frames have been removed, the honey is spun out, filtered and then bottled ready to be used as a delicious breakfast topping - or however you like to use your honey!
If you are interested in keeping bees and would like some support, do get in touch with the Launceston Beekeeping Group, who offer a taster session and provide lots of useful information to build confidence before you delve into the beekeeping world.