A Renaissance in British Beekeeping

From Bee Craft: July 2009

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When 120 people turn up to learn about beekeeping you can understand why the organisers were overjoyed, if a little overwhelmed!

Beekeeping Associations are reporting record numbers of new beekeepers attending courses

IF EXPERIENCES in Somerset are anything to go by, we appear to be on the brink of something of a renaissance in British beekeeping.

For decades, beekeeping in this country has been in steady decline, with each year showing fewer beekeepers than the last, but there are now signs that the corner has been turned and the trend is now upwards again.

Like most beekeeping organisations, the Somerset Beekeepers’ Association spends a great deal of time and effort in promoting the craft at shows and events across the county, reaching out to members of the general public who might have more than a passing interest in honey bees.

These people are pointed towards an Introductory Course in their area and the road towards becoming a beekeeper begins.

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The author taking the class

In the past, on a good day, with the wind behind us, classes of 30 to 40 have been considered a reasonable achievement but just recently, classes of 70 and 80 are not unusual. In January of this year, an Introductory Course was started at Shepton Mallet, (not one of the largest cities in the world) and 120 people turned up.

They just kept coming.

Fortunately, a large hall had been booked which could accommodate such numbers and the organisers, from what happened to be the smallest Division of the Somerset Beekeepers’ Association, could not disguise the delight on their faces.

For those of us who put so much time into raising the profile of beekeeping, it is tremendously encouraging to witness our efforts coming to fruition.

CHALLENGES

Of course, such large classes present special challenges.

  • How do you deal with such numbers at practical sessions?
  • Where are all the spare veils coming from to allow them to take their first look inside a beehive?
  • Who is going to produce all the nuclei to get these new beekeepers started?
  • Problems, problems, but what wonderful problems to have.

WHY THE INTEREST?

So what has created this increased interest in the craft?

Well, there can be no doubt that the recent publicity on research funding has raised public awareness and the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) and others are to be applauded for that. More people now recognise the importance of the honey bee, not just in food production but also in the environment.

There is also a greater interest in food provenance and honey is high on the list of natural’health foods. And we all have more leisure time these days -what better way to spend it than engaging in one of the oldest country crafts in the world?

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