There’s more to beekeeping than just the yummy honey! Looking after the busy insects is good for the planet, can improve your mental wellbeing, and really boost your self-esteem. It’s time to uncover what all the buzz is about
My son announced recently, quite unexpectedly, that he wanted to buy some bees.
Now, while this might be considered strange bee-haviour, it is perfectly in-tune with his dream of living a happier, and altogether less stressful existence.
Plans to live in a van with his partner and two children have, for the time being anyway, come to naught, and so acquiring some bees is the latest stop on the road to a more sustainable, healthier, and better-balanced lifestyle.
At first, I must admit, I was a little sceptical, but with my interest piqued, I decided to delve a little deeper and it seems that working with bees, or apiculture to the initiated (the word is derived from the Latin apis meaning bee), really can improve your mental wellbeing and boost self-esteem.
Human interaction with wild bees can be traced back 10,000 years, while beekeeping began domestically in North Africa 9,000 years ago, with pottery vessels being used as crude hives.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, however, and bee numbers are declining rapidly. So much so that 20 May has been declared World Bee Day. Approved by the United Nations, the day offers an opportunity to raise awareness about the threats to bees caused by human activities.
You might have noticed that these last couple of years have been a bit difficult for us humans, too. In fact, 48% of UK adults say the pandemic has negatively affected their wellbeing. Getting outside, taking a moment, and really connecting with nature has become more important than ever.
Research into exactly how interacting with nature can positively affect our mental health is being conducted all the time, but repeated studies show that spending time in our natural surroundings can produce an inner peace and boost self-esteem, helping us to feel good about ourselves, and see things that may be troubling us in a different, more positive light. But what if you could do more than that? What if you could help nature while you were helping yourself, how good would that make you feel?
But why should I care about bees? I hear you ask. Well, according to Friends of the Earth, bees help produce around one-third of our food supply, provide us with half of the world’s fibres, oils, and other minerals, provide food for wildlife, aid us in developing medicines, and contribute to the prevention of soil erosion. Quite a list!
Catherine Howell is co-director of Barefoot Kitchen CIC (Community Interest Company), a social enterprise based in Middlesbrough, in North Yorkshire, that delivers “plot to plate projects for people, places and the planet”. She is passionate about creating beautiful spaces for others to enjoy, and is a keen advocate of community activism.
Catherine and her small team (who operate on a co-operative basis) deliver projects that link the outdoors with wellbeing, and were instrumental in launching the successful ‘Buzz-in Boro’ campaign from 2020–21.
The aim of the project was to increase the number of honeybees within the town, and raise awareness of the pollinator species, and the vital role they play in food production. The company produced a spotter’s guide, taught basic beekeeping skills within the community, and installed several ‘eco tree hives’ in prominent public spaces.
The hives are carefully designed for gentle beekeeping, made with natural materials, and insulated to protect the bees from extremes of temperature. They’ve become a local attraction, with passers-by watching the bees’ activities, taking photos, and making videos.
Buzz-in Boro builds on a legacy of successful community beekeeping projects in Middlesbrough. An earlier project, ‘Bee Friend,’ funded by a National Lottery Local Food grant awarded to Middlesbrough Environment City, taught 80 people beekeeping skills, and created four new community apiaries for residents to gain practical experience. Bee Friend was the national ‘small grants’ project winner in the National Lottery’s awards.
Another bee-related project, along with a love of nature, led author Steve Donohoe down a path to recovery from alcohol addiction – he is now a fully-fledged beekeeper, having gone from A to bee you might say.
Steve says: “When I started keeping bees, I wanted an escape from city life. They were on a farm near High Legh, Cheshire, about a 20-minute drive from my house in south Manchester. I attended evening classes run by the Stockport Beekeeping Association in the winter of 2011, and by July 2012, I was a beekeeper.
“I like to think that bees helped me on my path to recovery. Family life, problems at work, credit card bills, and just never stopping my mind from racing were issues that plagued me.
“Fortunately for me, spending time connected to the natural world is tremendously healing. Inside a hive is a beautiful world of wax and pollen and propolis (‘bee glue’) – the sounds and smells of summer! The bees are so fascinating that you become fully immersed in their affairs. Even though I tend towards being an antisocial introvert, it turned out that meeting other beekeepers for a chat over a cup of tea was an unexpected pleasure.”
Steve adds: “I currently run 50-odd colonies of bees in four apiaries. My first book, Interviews with Beekeepers, has been in print for two years, and my blog, The Walrus and the Honeybee, is still going strong after five years. It’s fair to say that bees are a big part of my life.”
For members of the bee community, highlighting the benefits that pollinators can offer us is key: Friends of the Earth recently launched their Bee Cause campaign which seeks to raise awareness of how the decline in bees’ diversity and abundance would have a serious impact on the natural world.
Their bee-saver kit, which has everything you need to help bees survive, (and a lovely little bee postcard, too) can be bought via their website. The kit also contains some wildflower seeds so you really can spread the love.
Go on, help a bee out today.
Who knows, you might get a buzz out of it!