In response to the critical situation of the honeybee and the natural world as a whole, growing numbers of people, beekeepers and others concerned for the welfare of the honeybee, are questioning the modalities of forms of honeybee husbandry which rely - not unlike modern agriculture - on chemical solutions to man-made problems.
Efforts towards establishing more holistic practices in raising and caring for bees are slowly gaining ground as we begin to question what are essentially "controlling" approaches to bees and Nature as a whole. The Natural Beekeeping Trust was established in order to be of assistance to anyone seeking advice and tuition in bee-friendly practice and to demonstrate sustainable bee husbandry in the context of organic/biodynamic horticulture. Sustainable agriculture may be considered one of the core issues as there are no insecticides or pesticides which are safe for bees.
In the United Kingdom forage conditions for bees are compromised in many parts of the country where “plant protection substances” of the class of neonicotinoids are used. These systemic insecticides, introduced in the nineties, are water-soluble and mobile in soil. According to latest research they will, in time, spread throughout nature, causing irreversible damage to non-target insects, and are already affecting bird populations. Consequently their use has been banned in some European countries.
Bees were held sacred in all ancient cultures. Their survival was assured over millions of years. In less than 150 years this has changed dramatically. Much of modern beekeeping, like intensive farming, is geared at maximum production. This invariably results in exploitation as the essential needs of bees and other animals are disregarded. In addition, international trading with queen bees (as well as plants and foods) has resulted in the importation of numerous diseases and pests which are affecting honeybees and are proving difficult to control. Also, the systematic suppression of bees’ natural reproduction (by swarming) in favour of artificial breeding, which has been practised for more than a hundred years now, has resulted in impoverished genetics and disease resistance.
As the beekeeping industy, concerned for its survival, calls for ever more scientific research to provide answers to the bee crisis, the issue of individual and collective responsibility for the demise of the honeybee remains largely unadressed. In light of mounting scientific evidence to the effect that many of the bees’ major health problems are, in fact, caused by beekeepers, such a stance will be difficult to uphold in the long term. The stresses put upon bees in hives can only be remedied by beekeepers who are willing to put the needs of the bees first. It is those that the Natural Beekeeping Trust wishes to encourage. The environmental problems which bees (and all forms of life) face as a result of the accelerating destruction of the natural world, the loss of habitat, the toxicity of agricultural practice, and so forth, are huge.
Fortunately, it lies in the nature of the honeybee to respond to crises in unique and inspiring ways. More and more people feel called upon to engage with bees in ways more attentive and sympathetic to the intrinsic needs of the species. There is a growing awareness of the urgent need to adopt more bee-friendly practices, in beekeeping as well as horticulture and agriculture. As the UK’s major beekeeping charity does not, as yet, provide clear guidance in such holistic approaches, an “alternative “ beekeeping movement has been gaining ground. Hopefully, the suffering of the bees, particularly in areas of gross commercial exploitation, will inspire us to change, to think again, and to take steps to re-establish our connection with the natural world – a connection we have lost in the wake of our growing disregard for the integrity of Nature.
Natural beekeeping is seeking to understand the nature of bees and maintaining at all times an attitude of respect for this unique life form. When bees are cared for with due regard for their intrinsic needs, and when their natural life expressions are supported in all possible ways, caring for bees becomes a source of joy and wonder. As we strive towards bee-guardianship we may find that we come closer to fulfilling our true responsibility towards these vitally important and remarkable creatures.
What positive evidence is there of the benefits of Natural Beekeeping?
There are encouraging indications that colonies are strengthened as a result of husbandry that is mindful, first and foremost, of the bees’ needs, as winter survival rates are far better in colonies that have swarmed and overwintered on their own honey as opposed to sugar water or worse. This is hardly surprising, and would appear to be the way forward at a time when the bees, and many other pollinator species, are in deep crisis. We are confident that when the true gifts of the bee, together with the benefits of bee-friendly husbandry are appreciated more widely, we will all - bee keepers and honey consumers alike - begin to see honeybees as 'sustainers of life on earth' rather than 'producers of honey'.
The Natural Beekeeping Trust is fortunate in receiving help and encouragement from many well-wishers and active supporters. Numerous recent research outcomes clearly support holistic beekeepers’ husbandry choices. Mounting evidence of feral colonies faring better than those kept by beekeepers further supports less interventionist styles of beekeeping. Bee colonies foraging on predominantly organically cultivated land, and subject to husbandry orientated by the species-specific needs also exhibit better resistance to viruses and parasites. Through keeping bees with care as well as encouraging sustainable husbandry and organic and biodynamic agriculture, natural beekeepers may be confident in their ability to contribute to a new culture of beekeeping. A culture that is grounded in love and respect for the unique bee whose exemplary nature and importance to life on earth have much to teach us.
Some say that unto Bees a share is given Of the Divine Intelligence, and to drink Pure Draughts of ether, for God permeates all - Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault of Heaven - From whom flocks, herds, men, beast of every kind, Draw each at birth the fine essential flame. From “The Georgics” by Virgil
The Trustees of the Natural Beekeeping Trust
please contact (as soon as possible) either:
Heidi Herrmann: 01342 82 2101 / 07925 372524
Penny Crowder: 01342 82 2224 / 07817 880325
Peter Brown 07803 032283
Ninette Sapir: 01342 82 6374
or Plaw Hatch Farm: 01342 81 0201
We can cover an area of about 15 miles from Forest Row, Sussex RH193RX
And here is help for swarms in areas of the country we do not cover:
For Surrey and South Essex please contact Chris Cook on 07847 393182 or 01306 500067