Skip to main content

“WOW! That’s a lot of bees!”


     I could hear my son’s enthusiastic voice coming from somewhere near the front. He had managed to squeeze through the crowd so he could see, while I stood at the back trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on. There were about a hundred of us gathered around a demonstration beehive in the University of Bristol’s Botanic Garden, listening to the beekeeper talk about maintaining beehives. He’d just pulled out a frame from the hive that was absolutely writhing. We all stepped in for a closer look, and despite having no fear of bees, I have to admit that I was grateful for the mist net that separated us. After all, 15,000 is a lot of bees!
An audience gathers around the demonstration hive to
learn about the art of beekeeping. Photo: Nick Wray.
     Last month, my son and I were on a long walk when we happened upon the annual Bee and Pollination Festival at the Botanic Garden. The festival is a joint effort between the Botanic Garden and the Bristol branch of the Avon Beekeepers Association and this was its 3rd year running. This year, the event also partnered with the Bristol City Council’s Allotments Team, who helped to build a small working allotment on-site to celebrate the event’s theme of vegetable growing and allotments. About 1,000 people visited the gardens over the festival weekend and judging by the faces gathered around the demonstration hive, it was a hit whether you were two or ninety-two.
     For my 4-year old, bees mean delicious sweet golden honey. However, for many of us with gardens or allotments, bees have a much greater importance and value in their role as pollinators and the Bee and Pollination Festival was a chance to celebrate this. In the UK, the hard work of pollination is mostly done by insects – bees, butterflies and hoverflies to name a few. Besides our domestic bee, Apis mellifera, the UK has 26 species of bumblebee and 250 species of solitary bee. While we’re at work making a mental list of things that need sorting out in the garden on the weekend, these pollinators are out there doing their thing. In the UK alone, the value of insect-pollinated crops is estimated to be £510 million annually; pollinators perform an extremely valuable ecosystem service that is critical to our future food security.
     It’s important to be reminded of the connection between food and insects, particularly when we consider the plight of our pollinators. Bee and pollinator populations are in decline largely due to loss of natural habitat; monoculture crops and well-grazed pastures do not promote the wild flowers that are essential food for our pollinators. Loss of nesting areas, widespread use of pesticides and disease are also taking their toll.
     The University of Bristol’s Urban Pollinators Project was on hand at the festival to discuss some of these issues. The project is taking a close look at pollinators in urban environments, surveying pollinating insects in the urban centres of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading. The researchers are comparing the biodiversity of pollinators in urban environments with that in reserves and farmland. They’re also trying to identify urban hot-spots of pollinator biodiversity and look at ways of improving diversity and abundance of pollinators in urban areas.
The small working allotment built for the Bee and
Pollination Festival. Photo: Nick Wray.
     While my son stood entranced at the observation hive, searching for the queen, I also had a chance to check out the Bees for Development stand. If you haven’t heard of them, this is an independent organisation that works largely in Africa and Asia promoting more and better beekeeping to help build sustainable livelihoods in developing communities, while also conserving biodiversity. Among other things, the group helps promote the value of bees as pollinators, linking beekeeping to improved crop yields and profits for farmers and stressing their importance for food security.
     We had unfortunately just missed a speaker from Writhlington School’s Orchid Project, but we did meander through the artist exhibits and local nursery displays. We stopped by the Riverford Organic and Butcombe Brewery displays, and of course we couldn’t leave without buying a jar of local honey from the Bristol Beekeepers.
      However, the highlight of the day for me was, without a doubt, seeing my son’s face as he wound his way through the crowd to find me and share his unbridled excitement at seeing all those bees. For him, the smell of the smoke, the hum of the bees and the thrill of spotting the queen among thousands of dancing bees was an incredible window into the world of bees. For me, it was a reminder of the many ways we’re connected to insects and pollinators in particular. For both of us, we’ll have fond memories to think back on each time we enjoy some of our local honey.  

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Christmas and the Botanic Garden

Being out and about in the Garden gives a sense of the changing of the seasons, a sense brought about by the combination of light, temperature, wildlife and, of course, plants. This is felt most keenly at this time when we are the furthest from the sun that we will be, until next year. I find mid-winter an uplifting time; leafless trees show their bones and wildlife is easier to spot. It’s amazing how much life is flitting around in an old oak tree when you take the time to look into its branches. The sky seems bigger in winter and the sunsets more vivid. This might just be that we don’t get to see them so much in midsummer, but at this time of year we see the sun rise in the Garden and set in the Garden.
From this moment the days get a little longer and we begin to see movement in the soil, small signposts to spring that don’t occur before midwinter. Snowdrops and winter aconite emerge in January; tiny and fragrant flowers emerge on shrubs such as witch-hazel, Daphne, winter flowerin…

In the guts of bees

By Nicola Temple We hear a great deal about the beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive system and commonly referred to as the microbiome, which help us turn indigestible materials into nutrients that we can absorb. There are countless probiotic products on the market that are meant to introduce more of these beneficial bacteria into our system, enriching our microbiome. However, humans and indeed mammals are not alone in having helpful microflora in the gut.

The microbes that inhabit the guts of social bees has been of particular interest recently. These microbial communities have been studied for their role in bee health, but also as a model organism to help understand the relationship between hosts and their gut microbes, potentially providing insight into our own system.

The specialised cast of microbes The microbiome of bees is relatively simple, but very specialised. There are about eight to ten bacterial species, but different species of bee will carry different strai…

Why doesn't everyone compost?

By Alida Robey
Composting was an inherent part of how we lived when I was growing up – nothing was wasted.  Food scraps went to the chickens, kitchen and garden waste to one of several  compost heaps and leaves were piled into a pit for future leaf-mould.
Today,  I live in a flat with a small decked courtyard. I have access to five compost bins in an area of communal gardens in Clifton (Bristol, UK); this means with almost no effort at all the only rubbish I produce is recycling and an occasional black bag of non-recycleable inorganic waste. I don't even have to keep a compost bin at home. And still each week along my road I see quantities of black bags destined for landfill spilling out onto the pavement with fruit and veg and greenery.  Given the years I have spent trying to coax friends and neighbours in different locations to compost, this scene is a heart-rending weekly reminder of my lack of success in this personal campaign!
So when I was camping a few weeks ago, and had r…