It’s National Honey Week, a celebration of bees and honey across the UK. Organisations like the British Beekeepers Association and their local membership branches up and down the country will be hosting honey fayres, markets and celebratory events to promote local beekeepers, their honeys and of course the busy honey bees who make it all possible. The week climaxes with the National Honey Show from today until Saturday at St George’s College, Weybridge.
In recent years many restaurants and prestige hospitality providers have joined the masses of individuals and corporates rallying to support our bees. This has come around in response to the widespread reports among the press of declining honey bee populations. Many establishments are keen to provide their own honey for use in their kitchens and also believe these activities will give them some green kudos, boosting their sustainability credentials.
Life a little sweeter for honey bees
Fortunately, honey bees are not in as dire situation as was previously believed and recent evidence shows that managed honey bee colonies are actually on the increase and have been for some time despite heavy winter losses in some years. In cities like London, the number of hives has more than tripled in less than a decade to over 5000 colonies, sprouting the question ‘are there enough flowers in the city to feed them?’ Whilst honey bee numbers are doing well the same cannot be said for the majority of our wild bees. 9% of Europe’s 2000 species are critically under threat and a further 30% lack sufficient data on their population size and distribution to allow for coordinated conservation efforts. Rather than acquiring your own honey bees one thing we can all do to help is to plant more flowers and source our honey from local sustainable beekeepers instead of relying on cheap non EU imports.
If you’re a catering establishment wanting to source local honey for use in your kitchens getting your own bees and looking after them involves a great deal of effort and the initial set up expenses can be prohibitive. There is also allot to learn about beekeeping and there is no fast and quick way to become an expert. Paying a keeper to install and manage hives for you can also be very expensive and you have no guarantee of a return in the form of a honey crop.
Get the experts in
Alternatives to keeping your own bees include offering your establishment to an experienced keeper to site their own hives, allow them access to manage their bees and in return offer to buy their honey crop from them. This way you can share the prestige of having bees on your premises, gain a super local supply of honey and you’re supporting local beekeepers who often struggle to find suitable sites to place their hives in urban areas. There are over 25,500 amateur keepers in the UK and contacting your nearest beekeeping association is the easiest way to go about this. They can be found here. Alternatively, you can contact the Bee Farmers Association who represents over 200 commercial honey producers in the UK.
By Mark Patterson BSc, Forage Officer for the London Beekeepers Association and CEO Api:Cultural