Relaxation Therapy

Here’s a soothing duet of bees and birdsong from a Suffolk garden. Well, more bees than birdsong, really. But if you like bees, you’ll find it deeply relaxing !


Bees & Pesticides: An Open Letter

James Asked About Safe Pesticides & Bees

James Simison, family friend and Risk Management Surveyor at Sunderland Marine, sent me a very pertinent question about bees and pesticides on LinkedIn. A little later, James’ mother, Sheila, an eminent solicitor, e-mailed me on the subject of pesticides and bees. I took the hint: it was indisputably time for an Apis open letter on this very important subject!

Hi James,

In response to your question whether I knew “a good brand of pesticide that was bee friendly“, I don’t. I don’t think that there is one.

I empathise with your line of thinking: I recently took a very disturbing video of a poisoned bee from my Oxfordshire apiary, which illustrates the ghastly effect of an unattributed poisoning on a foraging bee on the landing board of one of my hives. It is a very real problem.

Looking to the future, I believe that we are a generation away from developing personalised medicine for human beings and, similarly, from species-specific pesticides in agriculture. So there is hope.

In the meantime, honeybees have to contend with threats from varroa, nosema, the small hive beetle, the Asian hornet, insufficient forage in cities and poor beekeeping education, as well as outright poisoning.

It’s a crowded agenda and each aspect needs to be squarely addressed, rather than single-issue groups exclusively lobbying for their own ends. Complexity is an awkward reality in the active promotion of honeybee health.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the varroa mite is by far the most widespread, persistent and deadly threat to wild and maintained honeybee populations globally. Seasonal application of naturally-occurring treatments against varroa is a key element of the holistic approach to high-health bee-husbandry called Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

I’m sure that, as a risk manager surveying marine environments, you have a similarly grisly list of pathogenic threats to sea-life around our shores – and that vested interest groups vocally promote their own agendas in regard to those issues.

I wish there were a safe, effective agricultural pesticide that is bee-friendly right now. But one day, I believe that there will be a multi-faceted solution to this particular conundrum.

Looking forward to meeting in June, somewhere between a bee-hive and the deep blue sea.

Best Regards


In the Apiary : Mid-May : An Inspector Calls…

At 5.31pm precisely the doorbell rang. It was the Seasonal Bee Inspector for South London, Brian McCallum, sent from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on a routine visit to the Bermondsey Street Bees. In the 8 years in which I have been keeping bees, this was my first visit from an inspector. Or, as I like to look at it, the first time I have been offered a free beekeeping lesson from an expert, paid for by Her Majesty’s Government. Hey, Brian, great to see you! But what kept you so long? Suiting-up on the roof terrace, I noticed that Brian’s bee-suit’s breast pocket has a badge with the insignias of “Fera” and “National Bee Unit” sewn into it. Now, there used to be a government department called Fera, which was formed in 2009. But Fera is now a limited company, owned 75% by Capita plc and 25% by DEFRA (Department of Food and Agriculture). Of course, DEFRA was created to absorb the splendidly-titled Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 2002. And the Bee Inspectorate was transferred from Fera to APHA late last year. Can anyone out there explain why government departments change their name-tags as freqently as those of the baristas at your local Costa Coffee? Dizzying, isn’t it? Anyway, smoker lit, we set straight to work. Brian was soon performing the slow ballet of beekeeping on our precarious fourth storey rooftop. Standing in a narrow gully between the pitched slate roof and the brick parapet on which the hives stand, we danced a pas-de-deux, as elegantly as possible in our veiled bee-suits, visiting Abbey Hive, Square Hive, Swarm Hive, Neckinger Hive, Leathermarket Hive, Shard Hive and Thames Hive.

Continue reading “In the Apiary : Mid-May : An Inspector Calls…”

Leathermarket Gardens : One Year On

Bee On Borage
Bee On Borage In Leathermarket Gardens

Last weekend, we witnessed a minor metrological miracle. For once, the rain held off when we went in to weed and tend our patch of fruiting trees, bushes, herbs and wildflowers in Leathermarket Gardens. Even the bees showed up to help us out.

Apple Blossom And Setting Fruit
Apple Blossom

Maintenance is important when you’ve planted for forage. Here we were, tidying up after the Leathermarket Gardens’ first anniversary, encouraging our fruit trees, currant bushes and herbs and preventing non-descript ground cover from overwhelming them.

So in went clumps of Forget-me-nots and scatterings of seeds from LMG stalwart, Nikki Vane:

Nikki On Parade
Nikki On Parade

And out went thistles and tufts of grass, as Antoinette weeded busily in the sunshine.

Antoinette At Work

 And Xander, too:

Xander : Hands-On

The bees were not slacking, either. Big pollen sacs were coming off the ceanothus. As is often the case with pollens, the colour of the flower does not match the colour of the pollen. The boisterous blue ceanothus yields a yolk-yellow pollen.

Bee On Ceanothus

It’s good to see the plants getting their feet down and fruiting copiously, now that the blossom has almost gone – a sure sign that the Bermondsey Street pollination brigade has been on the wing !

Currants, Currently

That’s what it’s all about, after all.

Risk Assessment

I’ve just finished writing a 15-page Risk Assessment for an Apiary which I have set up. A tedious, but necessary, process. It was a small consolation to reflect that, in my experience, responsible beekeeping is not risky at all.

That’s not just my opinion – I can back up the claim with a simple fact: I pay just under £10 a year to insure my own hives (the cover is £10 million Public Liability and £2 million Professional Indemnity).

I purchase this policy through my membership of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). A quick sum tells me that, if the Insurers ever had to cough up that £12 million combined liability, it would take them over half a century of collecting that £10 annual premium from each of the 24,000 amateur beekeeper members of the BBKA (and the 3 billion honey bees they care for) just to get their money back.streaming Split 2017

In the real world of insurance, at least, beekeeping is a reassuringly low-risk activity.

Greenwood Theatre Pocket Park

Joe Swift, Surrounded By The Pocket Park's Team
Joe Swift, Surrounded By The Pocket Park’s Team

I often encounter pessimism about the future of bee-friendly forage in London. You’ll be familiar with the argument: with property development squeezing the last drop of square footage out of any available space, homeowners decking or tarmacking over gardens and playgrounds and work-out areas nibbling away at park space, we come up against the same old problem: Land. “They ain’t making any more of the stuff”, as Will Rogers quipped.

Bees Love Salvia !
Bees Love Salvia !

But small, determined projects really roll back the defeatism about forage. Like our Leathermarket Gardens edible planting. Last night, I went to applaud King’s College for the “Pocket Park” which has been constructed along with their impressive new Greenwood Theatre building. This project had many local contributors: Dame Zandra Rhodes; St. Mungo’s Broadway; the London Bridge BID, as well as a bold design by top garden designer, Joe Swift.

Dame Zandra Rhodes Was There In Spirit !
Dame Zandra Rhodes Was There In Spirit !

Pocket parks are part of the Boris Johnson’s London’s Great Outdoors – the £2million pocket park programme seeks to improve streets, squares, parks, and canal and riverside spaces in over 100 locations across 26 London boroughs.

The Greenwood Theatre
The Greenwood Theatre

Pocket parks are small areas of inviting public space for all people to enjoy, providing relief from the hustle and bustle of the city. These spaces have trees and greenery; they are open to all; they have places to sit and relax and for people to come together; and they contribute to making the city friendlier, greener and more resilient.

And they’re wonderful for bees.


CSI Pollen


The Bermondsey Street Bees have enrolled in the COLOSS CSI Pollen study, which covers 18 European countries, working with Norman Carreck of the University of Sussex. This is an important adjunct to our own work on forage (watch this space!).

The protocol involves taking a representative 20g sample of pollen from three Bermondsey Street hives, dividing the pollen loads into different colours and then classifying the number of each different hue (Abundant, Rare and Very Rare are the categories). The number of days taken to provide the sample is also noted. Results are classified according to the protocol and e-mailed to Norman Carreck. The pollen sample is then frozen, so that a microscopic analysis could establish the exact number of pollen types (botanical diversity), if required.

In some quarters, local pollen is said to be a palliative for hay fever sufferers. So if any Apis readers in the Bermondsey Street zone would like some fresh local pollen, there are 3 small jars of Bermondsey Street pollen available.

If you’d like one, please give me a shout on , with “Pollen” in the message box. They’ll be allocated on a strictly “first come, first served” basis for collection next week.