As a child growing up in New Zealand and running around fields barefoot, bees used to scare me – only because they stung when I accidentally trod on one. Little did I know that these sweet little Anthophila were just going about their daily business of pollinating, thus ensuring that our already fragile ecosystem survived, and they had absolutely no desire to intentionally hurt me. Looking back now, I wish I had been better informed. Years later, a friend of mine announced that he was running a marathon for bees. His passion was contagious and ever since, I have wanted to raise awareness about the importance of these tiny ecowarriors.
Recent studies have shown that bee populations around the world continue to decline at an alarming rate. According to the latest statistics, more than 25 percent of the world’s bee species are currently at risk of extinction, and many more are under stress.I don’t think anyone quite comprehends the magnitude of what might happen if bees cease to exist. The loss of biodiversity is a trend that is garnering much concern. As organisms have evolved into mutualistic and synergistic relationships, the loss of just one species can have a catastrophic environmental impact. Since much of the pollination is facilitated by bees, the reported colony collapse disorder has many worried about the widespread agricultural fallout and the consequential deleterious impact on human food stocks.
The honeybee is the only insect that produces food that humans can eat.
Despite the potential harm to bees, the government’s controversial decision to continue to allow the farming use of harmful neonicotinoids (a class of insecticides widely used to control pests) has been a subject of much contention with many arguing that it prioritises the interests of the agricultural industry over environmental concerns. According to several studies, these pesticides lead bees to hyperexcitation and death – this factor alone is purported to have contributed to a decline of up to 30 percent in bee populations in some regions. While defenders of neonicotinoids argue that they are necessary to keep crops safe from pests, there are alternative methods available that don’t put bees at risk and are healthier to our food supply chain.
During my research on the plight of bees, I realised that many celebrities are strongly committed to contribute to the survival of bees. Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Leonardo DiCaprio are just a few of the Hollywood stars that have gone into beekeeping.
To better understand how one gets “hooked” onto the ancient occupation of owning and breeding bees, I spoke to the delightful and passionate Nicola Reed, whose personal journey began when her husband James Reed (Chairman and CEO of the recruitment platform Reed.co.uk) was gifted a hive for his birthday. Whilst fully supporting the initiative, he decided that it wasn’t for him, so Nicola stepped in and took control. She went on a beekeeping course in The Cotswolds, and when the beekeeper opened the hives, most people backed away intimidated. Nicola on the other hand felt the urge to leap in with them, as their hardworking, harmonious existence and ethical lifestyle resonated with her.
“I see myself as a privileged custodian, rather than a beekeeper.”
– Nicola Reed
Partnering with entrepreneur Matthew Brauer, they went on to create Beeble in 2018, which is now an award-winning whiskey, rum and vodka brand infused with honey, ethically harvested from Nicola’s 130 Wiltshire hives. Today, they are available in over 2022 retailers across the UK. From all the honey-based drinks I have tasted, hand on my heart I can say Beeble’s are the best. The sediment in the bottom of the bottle is proof that it contains real honey, rather than the usual essence. I have been reliably informed that the cocktail du jour for this summer is prosecco with a splash or two of Beeble honey rum.
Beeble produces award-winning whiskey, rum and vodka infused with honey.
Having recently completed a fundraising round, part of the money is going towards a beekeeping school Nicola has established to encourage more people to take up this worthwhile vocation. When I asked her how someone like me, who lives in an apartment building in the middle of London could assist, her response was, “Raise awareness and encourage others with outside space to install hives, even if they don’t plan to harvest the honey. Alternatively, create window boxes or garden planters filled with bee-friendly foliage.” Bees are attracted to flowers with bright colours and prefer a single layer of petals that provide easy access to nectar and pollen. Other bee and household friendly favourites are mint, rosemary, thyme and lavender.
Continuing on my journey, Nicola introduced me to the wonderful Bees for Development – an international charity that promotes sustainable beekeeping practices in developing countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana and Uganda. Established in 1993 by Nicola Bradbear,
its aim is to raise awareness, combat poverty by generating income, improve food security, and benefit biodiversity. Bradbear and her team work with local partners who share their objectives and possess the right level of expertise, thus delivering practical community-based projects to change people’s lives. Honey and beeswax harvested sustainably from unpolluted environments in developing countries are of the finest quality and in high demand around the world. However, for the communities that produce them, finding the best markets and selling their produce for profit is not easy. Bees for Development empower them with access to materials, skills, knowledge, information and connections.
“Beekeeping helps people to create an income, and at the same time gives them an incentive to look after their environment.”
– Nicola Bradbear
Demonstrating the medicinal and healing properties of beeswax and bee by-products is the charismatic and entrepreneurial Paula Warwick, founder of Batch #001, whose inspiration derived from the desire to help her daughters, both of whom had been diagnosed with severe eczema and allergies. “I wanted to create a range of completely natural and organic products that could be used to soothe and repair my daughter’s inflamed and irritated skin,” Warwick shares.
Having embarked on extensive medical treatment plans which included applying prescribed moisturizers up to ten times a day, these only seemed to exacerbate the problem and often resulted in blisters. When reading the long list of synthetic chemicals, preservatives, sulfates and parabens contained in these products, Paula wanted to find a natural alternative to ease flare-ups and lock in moisture. Inspired by a beekeeping friend, she started experimenting with beeswax. “The more I learned about its natural antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties, the more convinced I was that it would be fantastic to use in skincare for my daughters.” And so Batch #001 was born – creating products that are 100 percent ethically sourced, cruelty-free and made using all-natural and organic ingredients.
Batch#001 specializes in products that help soothe dry, sensitive, eczema-prone skin, naturally.
In addition to honey and beeswax, bees provide a range of other valuable products such as Royal Jelly, propolis, bee pollen, and bee venom, all of which have various uses in medicine, cosmetics, and food supplements. These products contribute to the economic value of bees and highlight the importance of protecting bee populations for sustainable development. There are many great initiatives out there, including beehive fostering schemes, and I encourage everyone to get involved wherever possible, as reversing the trend of decimated bee populations is crucial for the survival of our planet. Bee part of the solution.
Words: Shelley Campbell
Opening image: Courtesy of Bees for Development