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New bee homes for our local wild population to occupy have been put up at Kingsley School Bideford

Published Wednesday 19th of May 2021 09:51:35 AM

At Kingsley, we have recently had an addition to the Ecology Zone that has attracted a bit of puzzlement!

These new structures are not bird boxes or even Oompa Loompa homes but are bee homes for our local wild population to occupy.

They are bee-centred hives which is an approach guided by the biology and nature of the honeybee. The bee-centred method is non-intrusive, low intensity and minimal stress for bees and beekeeper.

Colonies managing their nest environments without the well-meaning but often disruptive support of man are subject to natural selection, which weeds out the weak. Strong, healthy colonies are capable of coping with varroa, viruses and other pathogens. This has been confirmed by observing Bees in wild or feral settings where colonies often chose quiet, warm or well-insulated sites several metres above the ground.

High up, in trees or buildings, Bees are often unnoticed and cause minor nuisance while living alongside man and providing essential pollination services. This sympathetic, considerate approach to beekeeping will enable people to live in harmony with bees, enjoying their presence in the garden, benefit from their pollination services and maybe receive the occasional gift of honey.

Matt Somerville, the designer and maker of these hives (https://beekindhives.uk/) came with his assistant Lesley Hipple to install them. He built these through much research, observations of wild colonies and talking natural beekeepers. He felt Bees were suffering from reduced forage and systemic pesticides, and new diseases. They were also stressed further by modern conventional husbandry originating from Victorian industrial practice that is still used to exploit the bee for honey and profit. He felt our environment has been degraded so much since those times that a re-think of our relationship with this incredible insect and our landscape was needed.

Mr Somerville designed a warm insulated hive that encouraged minimal intervention from the keeper, which immediately reduced both stress and disease in the bee. This led to hollowed log hives; a method used successfully in Poland and in the Cévennes region of France. Better insulation reduces stress and energy consumption, maintaining warmth during winter; it also helps prevent overheating in hot weather. The heat will be usefully concentrated at the top of the cavity during the construction of a new nest. Colonies will build long uninterrupted combs and sit under their honey stores during the winter, thus avoiding isolation starvation.

These bee hives have been installed to provide homes for wild populations of bees and have bee colonies on-site to aid pollination. These will not be for harvesting honey, so they will be left alone other than occasionally checking on them for growth and the debris they produce. This can be done through a hatchway at the bottom of the log.

I hope you agree they do look beautiful and do add something to the Ecology Zone site.

The log hive is ideally attached to a tree 12 to 15ft high and is fitted with a top cover board and rain cover. However, Matt has designed the hive on stilts for places like this and has found that with the hive 8ft up, they are undisturbed with people walking underneath. The straw hackle (roof) is a nice feature that adds to the charm of these structures.

The hives have been set up for the swarming season when the old queens leave the colony, taking half the workers leaving the new queen to build up the remaining colony. The old queen will search for a suitable place to start rebuilding her hive, which is where we hope our new log hives will help. We have put old honeycombs inside and dabbed lemongrass oil around the entrances to entice bees to come and investigate. The weather has been cold and now wet, so hopefully, when it warms up soon, we will get some new residence on the field?

Extra news:
First delivery of 10 tonnes of woodchip from Alun Griffiths, the contractors responsible for widening the North Devon Link road project between Barnstaple and South Molton. More for building the beds in the ecology zone, great news for year 9 and 10!!
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