More of the Same?

It became obvious at the Stroud Debate that many conventional beekeepers see harvesting honey as the sole reason to keep bees.  Some of those present seemed not to comprehend that there may be more to bees than this.

From the viewpoint of the natural world bees do not exist to make honey.   Agapanthus BeeThey exist to pollinate.  Honey is stored solely to feed the bee colony through times of dearth.  One wonders what bee biology or ecology the BBKA teaches in its beekeeping courses that the role of the bee is not properly appreciated? Are people taught that the only thing that matters is economic utility to man, which for hobbyists translates into honey yield -pollination being reserved for commercial beekeepers and specialist crops.

The truth is that life-giving pollination by bees contributes to all the landscape, not just specialist crops.  In addition, it had seemingly not occurred to some that they might also keep bees because of fascination, awe and wonder; that they might, over time, develop a profound respect and love for a creature that is so different from all others that it challenges our comprehension of the world in deep and meaningful ways.

Reinforcing the above, today I received the following from my local beekeeping association:

We have been lucky enough to get a speaker…  who will describe a simple system to help with the problems of modern bee keeping where queens have become very unreliable. ….. This is a very flexible system that uses no extra equipment but keeps honey producing colonies productive, and will suit all beekeepers however many colonies they have.

The speaker in question seems to be held in high regard within the BBKA. That is the same BBKA that endorses the agro-industrial, production-at-all-costs approach to both beekeeping and agriculture that has placed the bees in such an awful mess. It would be wonderful if such a high profile speaker could address the need for a fundamental change in the attitude of beekeepers to enable them to see the bee in its true nature rather than treating it as an object that exists solely for the economic benefit of man.  That, after all was what the Stroud debate was about.  Such a change in attitude would enable beekeepers to put at the forefront of their minds the welfare, not just of the bee, but of the whole ecosystem.  But no, we see instead a call for more of the same; more game-playing with the bees to defend the short-term production-driven interests of beekeepers.  And when bee populations collapse, who will they blame?  It won’t be themselves!

Gareth, Cotswolds

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8 Responses to More of the Same?

  1. jonbinspired says:

    Excellent Gareth.

    Surely if BBKA queens have become “unreliable” alarm bells should be ringing and honey production issues set aside until the cause is found.

    Jonathan Somerset, UK

    • simplebees says:

      My granny use to tell me not to spend too long looking in the mirror. Maybe these guys heard the same thing?

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  2. Paul says:

    I’d noted this talk was coming up and thought “it seems to be just another way of narrowing the gene pool”. Then I was asked directly by one of the local BKA committee members: “will you be showing up to this talk?” and stuttered out something along the lines of “ah, not my style of beekeeping, we believe more in letting them choose their own mates from local drones and thier own swarming strategies, and relying on natural selection.” (I was caught off guard and may not have been quite that coherent.)

    At the BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting the other day it was quite apparent that the tone of the organisation is very honey-centric and there is a focus on efficient production, inspection etc. When I discussed low intervention beekeeping with them one memorable comment was: “natural beekeeping isn’t really on anyone’s radar” and another, when I said I am not keeping them primarily for honey, was: “so why ARE you keping them then?”

    The BBKA meeting concluded with an address from the President where he said he viewed the number one problem facing British beekeeping as varroa, and that it would have been inconceivable 10 years ago that it would still be the major problem now. So a new workshop on that problem is forthcoming.

    • Simplebees says:

      “The BBKA meeting concluded with an address from the President where he said he viewed the number one problem facing British beekeeping as varroa”

      Somewhat at variance with other views I have heard expressed such as ‘varroa is a problem only if you force your bees to get honey’ from a regional bee inspector, who was of the opinion that commercial honey producers have long come to accept that varroa and ‘forced bees’ go hand in hand. Another view I recently heard is that ‘we are close to having varroa tolerant bees if only we could see it’ from an old hand who has also kept bees for many years commercially.

      There were beekeepers from all over at the Stroud debate, not just locals, and the view expressed by some (again commercial beekeepers) is that the BBKA at the national level is out of touch and an anachronism.

      Gareth, Cotswolds

  3. solarbeez says:

    I think the option of “honey-money” probably gets more bee hives sold than anything else. I mean when you total all the expenses of a new hive and equipment, it can be overwhelming…”but you can sell your honey.” Ka-ching, Ka-ching. I think it’s all about money…the bee publications, the meds, the equipment, even (especially?) the associations. Let’s face it, natural beekeepers don’t buy as much. They can even make their own hives.
    You are so lucky to have ‘natural beekeeping associations’ there in the UK. My bee club’s new president says he doesn’t want any discussions on mason bees or any other solitary bees, he just wants to concentrate on the honeybee. He is a proponent of antibiotics for nosema, miticides for varroa, and maximum honey production.
    Thanks for opening up the comments.
    Oregon Coast, USA

  4. grahambrookbanks says:

    Hi Gareth

    I thought you might be interested in this.



  5. salp111 says:

    Hello Solarbeez

    Why don’t you start your own natural beekeeping group? (or is there a law against it over there? Forgive the suggestion if there is.)
    That way you can begin to change your world in a small but highly significant way. There is plenty of on-line support through Simple bees as well as other UK sources…Natural Beekeeping Trust, Biobees etc.
    I know it’s not quite the same as a physical here & now supporting person/group , but it’s something much more meaningful & pro-life than your money honey miticide man. ALL bees are worth our care & consideration!
    Best wishes & good luck with your bees.

  6. Very mixed views here in Cambridge, many here are conventionalists and certainly there are a lot who don’t want to rock the boat with BBKA. I currently have three nationals, all treatment free, on Warré and two HTBH. Once the swarming season starts (could be any time between March and June judging by the variable weather recently!) I will have one colony in a willow skep. This will be a colony purely to produce swarms and drones. Some in my local association will see my untreated bees as a source of mites but we do have a number of HTBH enthusiasts in the area now so I do think the tide is turning and it will be interesting to see where the majority view in the area is in five years time.

    I think one of the problems here is that none of the natural bee keeping types in the area really have the time or inclination but mostly time to get involved in BBKA politics. If all natural bee keeping types in the country did start to challenge then perhaps the BBKA might change.

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