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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Keeping bees

Bees play an important part in the natural world and are responsible for pollinating many commercially grown food crops.  The number of bees has been falling recently. Find out how you can help boost their survival rates by providing plants for them to feed on and places for them to shelter.

Why do bees need help?

The honeybee's role in pollinating plants is estimated to be worth between £120 and £200 million a year to farmers in the UK. In the past two years the honeybee population in the UK has been badly hit.

Numbers of honeybees have dropped by 10 to 15 per cent due to bad weather, and infection from pests and diseases. Several bumble bee species are also in severe decline.

How you can help bees

There are a number of things you can do to help protect bees, from providing them with food and shelter to beekeeping.

Providing food

Bees need a wide range of plants that flower from spring to autumn to feed from:

  • alyssum, cornflower, sunflower, michaelmas daisy and sweet william for nectar in summer
  • bluebells, rosemary, geranium and honeysuckle
  • ivy and shrub willows provide food in early and late parts of the year

Creating shelters for bumble bees

Bumble bees need to find places to nest and overwinter. You can help them by:

  • creating patches of bare earth in warm sheltered spaces for nesting sites
  • leaving a pile of stones, dead plants stems, fallen leaves and log piles for bumble bees to hibernate in over winter
  • buying a ready-made bumble bee box

You can find more information on choosing plants and creating shelter for bumble bees in the Natural England leaflet on helping save the bumble bee.

Using fewer pesticides 

You can cut down on using chemicals in the garden by using companion plants to help keep pests away from your flowers and vegetables. Try:

  • planting marigolds near vegetables - they can help keep greenfly and blackfly away
  • planting garlic near roses - it can help ward off aphids

Visit the BBC Gardening website for more ideas on companion planting.

Keeping honeybees

A beehive can produce as much as 20-40lbs of honey in a normal year

Apart from the attraction of having your own honey, keeping honeybees can be a rewarding and relaxing hobby.

Advice on how to start beekeeping

The best place to go for advice on keeping honeybees is your local beekeeping association. They often run practical bee demonstration days, and will give you information on keeping bees.

Most beekeeping associations have hives used for teaching purposes, and to give you the chance to handle bees. Check the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) website to find one near you.

There are no restrictions on keeping bees. You can keep them in your back garden, but it would be wise to ask your neighbours if they have any objections.

Small gardens may not always be suitable for beekeeping. If you are in any doubt, your local beekeeping association will be able to advise you on suitable places to put a hive.

Get free beekeeping advice from BeeBase

Register with BeeBase and get free expert advice on 01904 462510

Once you have your first hive you can register on the National Bee Unit's (NBU) BeeBase database. The NBU uses this database to help monitor bee populations and levels of disease, and provides advice on identifying pests and diseases. They will also advise on the legal requirements for beekeepers.

Registered beekeepers get a free visit from a local bee inspector, who can provide help and advice on all aspects of beekeeping. You can register on the BeeBase website, or call on 01904 462510

Pests and diseases that affect honeybees

If you keep honeybees you need to look out for any pests or diseases that may affect your bees, or nearby hives. You have a legal duty to report certain pests or diseases to the NBU:

  • European and American Foul Brood (EFB and AFB) which are serious diseases and can be easily spread to other hives if not treated quickly
  • Tropilaelaps mites and the small hive beetle which are serious pests of the honeybee, but have not yet been found in the UK

The National Bee Unit (NBU) provides advice to help you identify these diseases at an early stage. The NBU can also advise you on how to manage other diseases and pests, like the varroa mite, and how to keep a healthy hive.

Make sure that you keep a good hygiene routine in your hive, and contact your local bee inspector at the first sign of anything wrong.

Additional links

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