Advice on bees keeping
by Jayne Howarth
Bees are essential to the environment and the food chain, but are falling rapidly in numbers. Jayne Howarth talks to Sharif Khan, who is helping to reverse the decline
Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would have only four years to live.”
It might have been hyperbole on the scientist’s part, but it is a fact that honeybees are responsible for the pollination of more than 80 per cent of crops that rely on animals to pollinate.
And while the demise of the honeybee and domestic bee was once considered worrying, but in an almost niche way, there are now very grave concerns about the decline in numbers of this incredibly important pollinator.
But a group of dedicated beekeepers in the West Midlands and Warwickshire are working hard to try to stem the decline of the insect and are encouraging others to play their part.
Sharif Khan, of the Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association, has been a keen beekeeper for seven years and manages 32 hives across south Birmingham, thanks to the growing bee landlord scheme.
This innovative scheme sees homeowners “rent” part of their garden to a beekeeper, who uses his own bees and equipment and then repays them with pots of honey, usually four from each hive – a rather sweeter version of a peppercorn rent.
“The idea of keeping bees on someone else’s land is not new, but it’s historically been the beekeeper that approaches the landowner for permission rather than the other way round,” he explains.
“The bee landlord, knows they are helping to boost the local bee populations and have the enjoyment of having the bees in their garden as well as the ‘honey rent’. They also have the satisfaction of knowing that they are playing a vital part in the sustainability of the local eco systems because of the pollination that the bees undertake in their local area.”
The scheme has been going for about four years and has already encouraged many people to “rent” their gardens to beekeepers. In fact, the 80 members of the Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association now manage about 300 colonies of bees across the city and beyond.
It’s ideal for people who want to have bees in their garden, but do not have the time or commitment to be apiarists themselves. Recent inquiries have come from allotment associations and even a church.
Sharif himself has 11 bee hives in his back garden, six of which are full size colonies, while the other 21 are spread across private gardens in Edgbaston and Weatheroak, at Brandwood Allotments and in a section of Highbury Park in Birmingham.
Potential bee landlords do not need a huge garden to have bee hives (you should house at least two, however), the layout of the space is more important, says Sharif, who lives in Stirchley.
“We look at whether or not the hives can be placed out of the way of the house, because we usually put them in a quiet spot in the garden, and we also look at the flight path for the bees so they can fly upwards quickly, which means as little disturbance to the homeowner as possible,” he explains.
The only other requirement is for the beekeepers to be allowed regular access to the hives to check the bees.
It’s a time-consuming hobby for the 33-year-old, who is a road space co-ordinator at Amey 9-5, for he has to visit his hives regularly to ensure the bees are healthy.
But he would not give it up for all the honey in the world. He has built up a huge knowledge of the not-so-humble bee since he first bought a hive on eBay seven years ago, after first spotting some hives in Highbury Park.
“I used to have chickens and have always prided myself on my garden, so the environmental interest was there,” he explains. “I bought my first colony and had to transport them from York by car. My mum thought I was mad.”
He did not join the Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association for a few months, but when he did sign up, found that he was the youngest member by about 25 years.
“It was your stereotypical retired gent participating in a genteel past-time,” he laughs. “But over the past three or four years, the demographic has definitely changed and there are far more people in their late 20s and 30s who are taking up beekeeping.”
Anyone interested in the bee landlord scheme can contact the Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association via www.warwickshirebeekeepers.org.uk or telephone Jan Willetts on 0121 249 1965.
The Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association is to hold its annual honey show in Martineau Gardens, Edgbaston, Birmingham, on September 8 and 9. It offers the chance to find out about beekeeping and visitors can see observation hives, make candles from beeswax and buy locally produced honey direct from the beekeepers. There will be plant sales and refreshments available. Members will also compete to win the best honey, wax and mead competition. It takes place 10am-4pm and entry is free.
Annual Honey Show in Martineau Gardens, Edgbaston, Birmingham
September 8th and 9th
The Birmingham and District Beekeepers’ Association