To bee or not to bee

Suntrap Centre
Kerry Rolison tending to a beehive at the Suntrap Centre in High Beach

Helen Bigham finds local solutions to a global problem

Shocking research states that plummeting insect numbers threaten the collapse of nature. Insects could vanish within a century at the current rate of decline.

Findings from a global scientific review of insects blames intensive agricultural practices for their decline. Bees have been seriously affected, with the number of honeybee colonies in the United States falling by more than half since 1947.

This got me thinking about small steps to stop this crisis. One way would be to set up a colony in my back garden. Surely I’m halfway there as I’ve got lilac and lavender, two of their favourite plants? As a household pet, unlike my dog, bees are independent and prefer to be left alone.

I recently visited Suntrap Forest Centre in High Beach and got the chance to provide the winter beehive with icing fondant as a nectar substitute. Kerry Rolison, head of Suntrap, said: “The first time I got into bees I was apprehensive, as I am sure most people are. However, once you start working with them, ensuring that you work at a slow and steady pace you have the chance to see how fascinating they are.

“Bees are never aggressive, they only ever try to defend their hive. I learnt so much on the beginner course run by the Epping Forest Beekeepers, but will never stop learning about the amazing world of bees!”

This beekeeping group meets regularly at Chingford Horticultural Halls in Larkshall Road, Chingford. As well as training they provide talks, ‘best of honey’ shows, and arrange apiary visits in the summer months.

None of this might appeal if you have insect sting allergies, but another option is to buy from the growing number of local honey sellers. One is Bee17, a small-scale beekeeping operation based in Walthamstow Village. They run sustainable hives and sponsor the local residents’ association, with donations going towards planting more bee-friendly flowers in the area.

I was not aware of the taste difference until I bought some honey from a local farmer’s market. Natural honey versus store-bought wins hands down. But it does more than taste good – it supports local small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Finally, one piece of sound advice from the biggest fan of honey, Winnie the Pooh: “When you go after honey with a balloon, the great thing is not to let the bees know you’re coming.”