In this week’s column, Dr. Fred Ayres shares the work of Lune Valley Beekeepers in cultivating beekeepers and pollinators across the District.

Lune Valley Beekeepers was founded in 2016 to promote an approach to beekeeping that allows honeybees to be effectively managed without the frequent interventions that are required in conventional approaches. Since then, we have grown steadily.

Alongside our work in training new and existing beekeepers, we have initiated or participated in a range of other activities to increase the number of pollinators buzzing around our District. We launched the Lune Valley Pollinator Corridor to encourage voluntary groups and parish councils to create a chain of wildflower patches along the Lune Valley. More wildflowers means more bees.

To help raise awareness of the importance of pollinators amongst young people, we regularly contribute to the Rotakids Conference, which attracted over 130 youngsters from 22 different schools this year. We also supported the Beaver Scouts Environmental Day at Leighton Hall which was attended by some 300 Beavers.

To allow us to provide environmental volunteering opportunities for youth organisations, such as Lancaster Youth Challenge, we have created a 900 square metre wildflower meadow and maintain a small woodland at our Club apiary.

We have also supported several specialist organisations in setting up bee hives where they have found beekeeping to be helpful in supporting their members. For example, residents of special schools, a residential drug rehabilitation centre, and women’s residential refuges.

We designed the Lune Valley Long Hive, a bee hive that is well insulated against both winter cold and the spells of hot weather we have been experiencing with climate change. The management of this hive significantly reduces the amount of time needed to manage bees safely and eliminates the need for the heavy lifting associated with conventional beekeeping. This makes the hive manageable for someone in a wheelchair.

Overall our work highlights how essential honeybees are for life and the food we eat – they pollinate 60% of food crops. However, the nation’s stocks of honeybees have been declining by around 25% year on year. Since Brexit (30th January 2020) it has also been unlawful to import colonies of bees into the UK, so the pollinator shortage grows worse.

In response we are setting up a breeding apiary which should be fully operational next year. This is a recognised site with the National Bee Improvement Programme, a national initiative to encourage local areas to develop and produce a strain of honeybee that is well suited to the local environment.

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