Friday, 17 December 2010

London Bee Summit

Yesterday saw John head down to London South Bank for the London Bee Summit which brought together the country’s experts on bees, bugs, pesticides and organic gardening to discuss the plight of the bee and launch a new funding package for bee keeping in London.

Myles Bremmer, the CEO of Garden Organic, chaired the afternoon proceedings and introduced Lord Henley, a Peer who works as Under-Secretary of State for Environment as part of the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Lord Henley was quick to boast about his qualities as a marmalade maker but used his opening address to encourage beekeepers to register on Beebase which is set out to ‘provide a wide range of free information for beekeepers, to help keep their honey bees healthy.’ Clearly a large part of the bee keeping audience felt that DEFRA was not doing enough and this came through when the floor was opened up to questions. Quickly Lord Henley felt the room turn hostile as beekeepers questioned him on the use of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a type of pesticide which has been linked to a decline in bee numbers and colony collapse disorder which has seen vast numbers of bee colonies die out or ‘collapse’. The UK still allows the use of these types of pesticide despite growing pressure from beekeepers for their use to be limited or banned – something which has happened in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia. After Lord Henley denounced the claims from the beekeepers that there was significant evidence for the banning of neonicotinoids, and claiming UK laws were tougher than most of our European counterparts, he left the room as the pantomime villain and the target of jeers and hissing from the frustrated beekeepers.

Next up we had the esteemed Professor Opi Outhwaite from the University of Greenwich discussing what role regulation could play in honey bee health. Opi is currently working on research into the laws surrounding conservation and biosecurity of honey bees and (quite wisely) decided to avoid the sticky subject of pesticides on this occasion. Mike Brown from the Food and Environment Research Agency Bee Unit (FERA a subsidiary of DEFRA) described how FERA were working on research around the honey bee and again encouraged the audience to use their website beebase.

Honey Bee Pollinating
Nick Mole from the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) managed to rouse the crowd of beekeepers with his hard-line anti-pesticide stance citing pesticides as the main reason for the collapse of one fifth of UK hives. He championed the honey bees worth to the economy to the tune of a £141 billion per year and stated that bees were vital in the production of 80 million tonnes of food per year. Had he continued beyond his ten minute slot Nick could well have had the crowd roused enough to march to parliament and stage an impromptu protest against the government’s stance on pesticides!
Nick Fraser from the National Trust spoke to the audience about chemical-free gardening and what we could learn about keeping a truly organic garden from the National Trust property gardens at Nunnington Hall. He also spoke about the National Trust ‘Bee Part of It’ campaign with BBC local radio stations. Tim Lovett from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) talked about education and responsibility in apiary and Karin Courtman from the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) talked about her love for the honey bee and how the LBKA has a mentoring service for those Londoners keen to try their hand at beekeeping too.

The half time break brought the delight of honey cake and the eagerly awaited honey tasting competition, won by the most delicious and quite fruity honey from the London Borough of Lambeth which reminded me for the ale Golden Glory. It also gave me an opportunity to meet our beekeeper, Camilla Goddard, of the five hives we have at the mausoleum in Greenwich and discuss the opportunity of running an introduction to the bees in the springtime next year – watch this space!

University of Greenwich Bees managed by Camilla Goddard

The second half of the summit was focussed more towards the community side of beekeeping. Elinor McDowall from Bungay Community Bees project told the audience about her experiences setting up a business model for community beekeeping. Tim Baker from Charlton Manor Primary School in Greenwich told us a story about how a swarm of bees had fascinated children and inspired him to set up a hive and a garden in the school grounds. Now, as Tim proudly boasts, when a swarm arrives in the local community it is his pupils that are called to collect the swarm. Perhaps we ought to invite his pupils along to the University to teach us? Steve Benbow from the London Honey Company gave a frantic presentation on his inspiration to keep bees from a maverick Ney York based beekeeper and how he has found the honey in London and urban areas can be better than that of the honey from the countryside.

Heidi Hermann from the Natural Beekeeping Trust focussed her attention towards the practices of beekeepers and looked at the practices of her peers to explain the bee losses. Heidi had a very convincing argument for a holistic and natural approach to beekeeping. She explained that she had been forced to look for alternative and sometimes illegal methods to protect her bees from pests such as the varroa mite, and avoid using standard pest control. Heidi stands by letting bees behave in a way most closely related to wild bees and like to let her bees swarm which breaks the brood cycle for the varroa mite. Her comments were warmly received by some in the audience although others mentioned the issue of a lack of understanding in the wider community – swarming bees are not especially dangerous but the general public tend to perceive them to be – and thus damages the reputation of the local beekeepers.

Sue Walton brought the end to the guest speakers by reminding everyone that it isn’t just about the honey bee. Buglife: The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, who Sue works for, are out to support all the pollinators whether they are honey bees, bumble bees, hover flies, butterflies or moths and by supporting all the pollinators we can ensure a future with coffee, strawberries and chocolate, three plants that pollinators provide that life continuing service for.

To wrap the evening up Rosie Boycott, the Chair of the London Food Board, announced the launch of the Capital Bee funding scheme, which will see 50 beehives awarded across London along with all the equipment and training to become a competent and responsible beekeeper. After the conference the Co-Operative provided wine while promoting their Plan Bee campaign a cheeky poke at Marks and Spencer’s Plan A. Plan Bee sets out that Co-Op farmers are not allowed to use neonicotinoids in their practices to protect the plight of bee.

Overall the conference gave a fascinating insight in the world of beekeeping and the issues surrounding it. One thing that was very clear from the conference is that there is a growing number of people looking to take up beekeeping and ‘Save the Bee’, and the University of Greenwich – now with no fewer than five hives across our campuses – can stand up and be counted amongst the bees growing number of advocates.

1 comment:

  1. These summits act as a linchpin to create awareness for waste management.