Saving our bees - CPRE

PUBLISHED: 16:42 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 20 February 2013

Beekeeper Douglas Nethercleft.

Beekeeper Douglas Nethercleft.

The harsh winter was hard for bees but the wet autumn was even worse as Nicholas Butler reports.

Bees are in steep decline. Are we to lose them altogether? There are two main causes for this decline and one of them is purely natural bad weather.
Not a few managed colonies have perished in the late prolonged winter, but three cold, wet autumns in a row have caused mayhem. For it is in the autumn that bees collect nectar and pollen to provide food for winter, and if the cold makes it too hard for them to draw up the nectar and rain washes the pollen out of the flowers then, if not starved, the bees become undernourished and a prey to illnesses they would otherwise
shrug off.
And, of course, there is the bogeyman of the bee world, the infamous varroa mite that sucks the blood of the adult bees, weakening their immune systems, and attacks the larvae in their cells. Happily, a number of products are available, some chemical based, some organic, which can control the level of infestation without harming the bees.
We cannot deter the varroas that prey on feral colonies. So if we want to keep the honey bee we must all take up beekeeping.
Douglas Nethercleft was an accountant, before he turned to teaching adults. Now retired, he teaches helmsmanship on narrowboats to those who navigate our countys extensive canal system. And he keeps bees.
He was introduced to bees when, as a young lad, he was shown an observation hive. The interest never left him. Four years ago he joined his local branch of the British Beekeeping Association, at Shipston-on-Stour, and was given his first swarm. I visited him on a warm afternoon recently, at a farm near Oxhill, where he keeps his six hives. He opened up two of them and showed me the latest, half-completed honey combs.

Beneath each hive is a tray on which detritus, bee droppings, wax, nectar and so on, collects. Among this junk is the very occasional minute brown object the size of a pinhead a varroa mite! Happily, Douglas uses an integrated system of pest management to keep the problem well under control.
Each hive can produce about thirty pounds of honey a year for a beekeeper, but another forty pounds must be left in the hive to see the bees through the winter. There is also the scented wax that is made into candles. However, Douglas tells me that, for him, honey and wax are by-products. His primary interest is the bees themselves.
His interest is shared by growing numbers of enthusiasts. David Blower, the Swarm Liaison Officer of the Warwick and Leamington Branch, reckons there are between 500 and 600 beekeepers in the county. Over the past winter his branch ran a course for novices and out of the 50 people who joined about half will go on to own their own swarms.


Would you like be an apiarist? Have a word with Clive Joyce, the Membership Secretary of the Warwick Branch, (01926 858528), or contact whichever branch there are eight in the county that is nearest to you.

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