In 2018 the UK saw a rise in temperature as heatwaves presented themselves over the summer months and continued into autumn. The prolonged sunny weather and warmth not only caused crops to flourish, but in turn bee colonies were able to continue to thrive on nectar rich plants for longer, and as a result the average honey harvest was up to seven times the UK average.
It may be surprising that the honeybees were able to survive when you think back to the weather the UK experienced in Spring. The aptly named, Beast from the East’s arctic blast covered much of the country in bitter chills, but the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) reports the honeybees remained unscathed. According to the BBKA, the average beehive across England and Wales produced an incredible 30.8lb of honey this year compared to 23.8lb in 2017*.
A hive of activity
In the height of summer you can expect around 35,000 bees per hive, which falls to around 5,000 in the winter months. The life of a worker bee is a busy one and those bees born in the summer months live to around 40 days, compared to those in the autumn surviving until the following spring as they huddle together through winter to keep warm.
The common phrase, the ‘bee’s knees’ is unfortunately less accurate than the cat’s whiskers, but although a bee doesn’t technically have knees, it’s fascinating how far their tiny legs and wings carry them. A honey bee can fly between 15-20mph and a strong colony can fly the equivalent distance of home and the moon each day. **
Honeybees may for some seem like a summertime nuisance, but these hardworking creatures play an important role in cross pollinating our crops – from apple to almonds, honeybees’ nectar of the gods or perhaps more commonly known as honey is just one of their by-products. Beeswax, royal jelly and bee bread are also used for items such as mead or medicinal needs to treat anything from burns, eczema, nausea and even the common cold.
It’s thought 75% of food crops are now dependent on animal pollination which plays a critical part in our food chain. However, globally we are facing a pollinator crisis due to intensive agriculture, climate change, pests and disease. An issue specific to honey bees is the lack of suitable habitat for foraging caused by the loss of hedgerows, woodland and meadows rich in plant species as the rising human population expands.
To ensure we protect and nurture our honey bee populations and their habitats, it is important that we build a detailed understanding of their behaviour. During the winter months bees use up all their stores of honey. Spring then becomes a crucial time for honey bees as they need to gather nectar and pollen to replenish their stores. The protein from the pollen is used as food for the brood so it is vital that they have a wide variety of flowers available to them.
Honey, Bee Sustainable
As sustainable energy becomes more prevalent, solar parks have made additional contributions to energy. Solar Parks make ideal homes for bees and their hives as they are secure environments with readily available, undisturbed food sources. Low Carbon, which is part of Oxygen House, has placed beehives on selected solar parks across the UK and more than 2 million bees, around 60,000 per hive, now call our solar parks home. To ensure the well-being of all our bees, trained beekeepers regularly visit and tend to the hives to ensure our bees remain free from mites and parasites – an increasing challenge due to the impacts of climate change.
Bees have been around for over 100 million years+, and unfortunately the effects of climate change will inevitably impact the life of the honey bee. The amount of impact through shifting temperatures, loss of habitats and an increase in susceptibility of parasites and disease means we have to work that much harder to keep them alive.
So, how can you help?
• Plant pollen-rich foliage in your garden. Whether you have a window-box, an allotment, hanging baskets or vast green space, you can still help support honeybees by providing them an essential and tasty treat or forage. Rudbeckia laciniate, Verbana species, and Echinacea are just a few of the varieties that bees love to pollenate. You can read about the top ten plants for bees on the BBKA website
• Buy local honey and keep your food miles down. You’ll often find unpasteurised honey locally, which is preservative free and full of flavoursome local fauna. Not only will you be supporting your local beekeepers by buying close to home, but you’ll reap the rewards as untreated honey is full of antibacterial properties and antioxidants. As a rule of thumb, the darker the honey the better the medicinal effects.
• Bee educated – Learn more about these amazing creatures through the BBKA. Whether you’re interested in learning more about the honeybee, have space in your garden for a hive, or you’re interested in becoming a keeper, the association has some top tips on how to help support your local bees.
• Embrace National Honey Week as we do at Oxygen House, by finding new sweet and savoury dishes to try, educating your staff on the importance of the honeybee, and raise awareness within the community that you live and work.
*BBKA Annual honey survey, October 2018
**BBKA website, October 2018
+ Cornell University. “Two Studies On Bee Evolution Reveal Surprises.” December 2006