Hive of activity to save the humble bumblebee

Lancaster Beekeepers - members getting to grips with one of the hives.
Lancaster Beekeepers - members getting to grips with one of the hives.

The importance of our humble bees may not be well known but as the loss of our green spaces hits an all time high reporter Gemma Sherlock speaks to one group about why they’re taking action to save the nation’s beloved species.

Bees are vital to our economy and lives yet so many species are facing extinction due to changes in agricultural practices.

Picture by Julian Brown for LEP 24/08/15  honey bee on a flower in the Pollination Patch  Beekeepers feature,�Crook O' Lune, Lancaster

Picture by Julian Brown for LEP 24/08/15 honey bee on a flower in the Pollination Patch Beekeepers feature,�Crook O' Lune, Lancaster

Food production is at an all time high and the rapid change in farming has meant the decline in wildflowers and meadows.

Approximately 95 per cent of grassland has been lost since the 1930s.

Bees are responsible for pollinating more than 30 per cent of food yet they’re rapidly losing their habitat.

This has prompted one charity group to take action.

Getting stung is part of the job, if you don’t like bees flying around you then you can’t be a keeper

Dr Fred Ayres

Lancaster Beekeepers, a group of hobbyist beekeepers, has more than 140 members and works to raise awareness of the species.

To help tackle the decline the group has planted seven pollinator patches across the district.

The patches contain many nectar and pollen-rich plant species, which are favoured by bees.

Erica Sarney, who joined the group in 2006, said the patches give bees more opportunity to forage.

Planting one of the pollinator patches at Caton village with Caton St Paul's Scouts, Little Dale Hall and the community.

Planting one of the pollinator patches at Caton village with Caton St Paul's Scouts, Little Dale Hall and the community.

Mrs Sarney said: “When bees venture out of hibernation early they need to forage to build up their supplies, if they are not able to do that they’ll simply starve.

“Bees can forage up to three miles away from their hive, so if they have got a pollinator patch very close by then they can make many more trips back.”

The group, with the help of the community, has planted pollinator patches in Williamson Park, Lancaster, Caton, Strands Farm, Hornby, Crook o’Lune and Arkholme Close, in Carnforth.

Caton St Paul’s Scouts and Littledale Hall, who support people with addiction problems, helped transform the Caton site from a litter grot spot into a wildflower meadow.

The Lancaster Long Hive designed by Dr Fred Ayres and built by Vincent Smally. It is designed for disabled members and others who need an easier access to the hive.

The Lancaster Long Hive designed by Dr Fred Ayres and built by Vincent Smally. It is designed for disabled members and others who need an easier access to the hive.

Mrs Sarney said: “I think for the community, scouts and Littledale Hall it has given them a huge sense of achievement they can be immensely proud of.

“One scout, Ben Sutcliffe cycled 1,000 miles to raise funds for our flower planting, so the support has been overwhelming.

“Some sites are cheap but others can be in the hundreds – the cost is nothing though when you think it is a permanent meadow that only has to be cut twice a year.”

Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council and Carnforth Town Council have helped support the project.

Nick Osborne, from Lancashire County Council’s countryside service, said: “The patches benefits local populations of insects, birds and small mammals, and also provides more opportunities for people to enjoy native wildflowers.

“Visitors have enjoyed the abundance of wildflowers and insect life that it attracts, and we have had many positive comments about the sites.”

Coun David Smith, cabinet member with responsibility for environmental services, said: “The city council worked closely with the Lancaster Beekeepers to transform the embankment on Quernmore Road next to Williamson Park from a drab patch of grass into a colourful display of native wildflowers.

“Not only has this been a great boost to the appearance of a very prominent location on a busy main road, it has increased biodiversity and also reduced maintenance costs for the council.”

The groups apiary houses around 80,000 bees and welcomes new members who wish to become a keeper.

Dr Fred Ayres, chairman of Lancaster Beekeepers, explains new members need to prepared to get stung.

Mr Ayres said: “We make sure our members get stung at least once to test if they have anaphylactic shock, obviously it is very rare, but it does happen and a lot of our beekeepers work on their own, so it needs to be addressed.

“Getting stung is part of the job, if you don’t like bees flying around you then you can’t be a keeper.”

Erica keeps several hives in her garden in Caton and explains one hive can contain around 60,000 bees.

She said: “It is a very personal thing about how you keep bees, people manage their hives in different ways.

“When you are new it is always tempting to check but it is bad for the bees.

“The hobby can be expensive, with all the equipment, but it is one I am very passionate about.”

Lancaster Beekeepers is hoping to continue the pollinator project to further advance and enhance habitats and wasted space.

The group offers all newcomers a comprehensive training package to ensure that they become competent beekeepers.

If you are interested in becoming a member contact Joy Greenwood on 01524 32816 or email joygreenwood25@yahoo.co.uk.