At the time of writing, rape fields are turning yellow and bees from my hives are out on foraging trips collecting nectar and pollen. Fortunately, the West Tisted Estate have joined a scheme called ‘BeeConnected’ and inform local beekeepers when and where they will be spraying insecticide. I was very grateful last year to be contacted and warned when spray was to take place. On my request, spaying of a nearby field was held back to late evening when bees were not flying.
The bright yellow fields soon turn back to green and bees find many other sources of nectar and pollen making journeys up to a mile and half from a hive. A succession of different flowers are visited by bees as the seasons progress with specific plant species only attracting pollinators during a short window of time. Wide areas of countryside and many gardens are visited to feed an expanding bee colony during the summer months and eventually build up stores in the hive to survive the winter. With bountiful seasons and well manged hives a beekeeper can take a share of the honey crop.
Seasons vary and every year is different, but there are exceptional challenges for beekeepers. Changing land use and pressures on farming to increase food production while keeping costs low is having a huge impact on the natural environment. News items in recent years highlight the extent of changes to the countryside. Insect populations have declined by 75% in 3 decades. And over 95% of wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930’s. Widespread use of pesticides and herbicides are taking their toll.
Inevitably there is an impact on all pollinators, bee species including honeybees. The National Bee Unit, a research body, in the last few years has issued notices about the starvation of hives in mid-summer, at a time one might expect bees to be doing well (beekeepers now talk of the ‘June Gap’).
Well managed farms are vital to our food supply but alongside this a recognition that land not in production such as field margins, hedges and lane verges and gardens can be a valuable resource for wildlife. Wherever possible there is a need to manage land better for wildlife, ensuring there are places for wildflowers to grow and avoiding green deserts of mown grass. Productive farming and wildlife can co-exist.
With sensitive management of our countryside and gardens it should be possible to ensure a supply local honey for sale in the Courtyard Shop.