According to Albert Einstein, our very existence is inextricably linked to bees – he is reputed to have said: “If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.”
We were immensely privileged to host the The Natural Beekeeping Trust (NBKT) for a two day conference with 150 delegates committed to holistic, chemical-free, sustainable and bee-centred beekeeping from all around the world.
We learnt how modern beekeeping, just like intensive farming, focuses so exclusively on maximum production that the bee’s biology, natural behaviour and essential needs are disregarded and how pesticides, parasites, viruses, stress and starvation have led to the exponential increase in disease and colony collapse.
The black bee is our native honey bee but imports of Italian bees began over a century ago and this race now dominates beekeeping resulting in a vastly impoverished honey bee gene pool.
‘Modern’ beekeeping can be said to have begun in the year 1852 when the Reverend LL Langstroth patented his box hive and changed bee keeping forever. Rather like a filing cabinet for bees, it delivers easy honey retrieval for beekeepers, but is less ideal for bees who after all evolved to live in hollow trees.
All sorts of “bee kind” bee hives were on display – and the conference concluded with the discovery of a wild bee hive in the trunk of an ash tree in Nut Wood. Strong colonies of unmanaged bees are vital to bee health. Without the testing environment of nature, which shaped and protected bees for millennia, bees are at the mercy of beekeeper rather than bee centric practices of modern apiculture.
Bee-centred beekeeping promotes health by respecting honey bee’s natural behaviour to minimise stress and maximise health, with bees allowed to build natural comb, the queen allowed to move freely throughout the hive, leaving enough of their own honey, full of nutrients and goodness, to sustain them over the winter months, and swarming rather than artificial breeding acknowledged as the only way to rejuvenate and reproduce a colony.