I’m a beekeeper first and a blogger second. Whistleblowing comes way down my list (somewhere below allotment weeding, but just above buying cat litter and deleting junk e-mails).
Call me old-fashioned, but when I come across wrongdoing in an organisation to which I belong, my hackles rise. Thus I felt duty-bound to blow the whistle on the demonstrably unpalatable activities of two recently-elected top officials of the London Beekeepers’ Association (LBKA) earlier this year. On 20th March 2013, I wrote an Open Letter of Resignation to the Committee of the LBKA, detailing the improper corporate governance by this small clique of senior officers.
I took my complaints about improper communication by the LBKA Secretary, Angela Woods, to the U.K’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). My complaints against the LBKA Secretary and, by association, the LBKA Committee, have been fully upheld by ICO (see page 3). Furthermore, as a result of my complaint, the LBKA has been required by ICO to amend its communication protocols with Members (see page 3) to bring them into Compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. The ICO decision also places the LBKA Secretary in breach of the LBKA Constitution, which clearly stated at the time of her improper communication with me that Members’ private: ”information will be stored on paper and computer records for use by LBKA solely for purposes directly relating to its activities”. This is a shameful outcome for the LBKA, one which diminishes its authority and credibility with its own Members, as well as the world outside the LBKA.
The LBKA Committee has made a mockery of its own democratic processes by not enacting the motion which I proposed and which was passed unanimously by show of hands at the 2012 LBKA AGM, which required disclosure of LBKA’s Officers’ bee-related commercial activities to the Membership. The inaction of the LBKA Committee in implementing this AGM motion does a disservice to its Membership and brings the LBKA into deeper disrepute.
What is more, the LBKA has also embarked on an ugly and unnecessary spat with its historic clubhouse, the Roots and Shoots charity in Lambeth, with the usual bellicose LBKA Officers leading the charge. I fondly recall my introduction to beekeeping at Roots and Shoots, when the LBKA was a beekeeping club, prioritising the communication of shared beekeeping skills between Members, and not a confrontational, headline-chasing hobby-horse for a small group of senior Officers.
Worse yet, a woefully incorrect article (co-authored by the LBKA’s newly-created Forage Officer) in the June edition of the British Beekeepers Association magazine, (pages 28-30), was effectively an advertorial for the other co-author’s FlowerScapes seed business and the LBKA’s branded wildflower-seed packs. The article concluded that hive density in London was equivalent to that required for the commercial pollination of orchards. The problem was that the data was grossly miscalculated – in favour of the commercial conclusion hoped for by the seed-sellers – by a factor of 30 times. That’s shabby science. A letter correcting the calculation by the Harrow BKA was published in the September BBKA magazine (Letters page) and a weaselly apology by the co-authors was submitted in mitigation of their error. This pseudo-science, pushing their product for profit, does no favours for the cause of bees, pollinator-friendly forage and beekeeping in London.
That flawed article also contained a further example of the LBKA’s Secretary’s habit of promoting her personal business interests under the LBKA banner (which was part of what ICO required the LBKA secretary and others to cease in their communications with LBKA Members). The LBKA Secretary runs a Photographer’s Agent business. In the article, there are 3 photos credited to her professional clients. The LBKA Secretary should be promoting LBKA Members’ interests, not her own. (I am sure that many LBKA Members have passable images of a beehive inspection, or of seed packets which they would be delighted to have representing an article with a strong LBKA association – do you expect that any one of the general LBKA membership was invited to submit photos for this article?)
This is precisely the blurring of personal and LBKA business interests which I found, and continue to find, distasteful and unacceptable, from elected LBKA representatives. I urge LBKA Members to consider how the actions of a small number of senior LBKA officers are consistently bringing the LBKA into disrepute.
Ironically, today was the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his letter of dissent to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, which led to the Reformation. In my own small way, I sympathise with Martin Luther’s frustration against a corrupt and oppressive 16th-century Church – my own protest is against a tyrannical Beekeeping Association (!) which is demonstrably more interested in selling over-priced seed-packets under false pretences (modern-day indulgences for the guilt-racked burghers of London!) and in self-promotion than in the craft of beekeeping. So I would like to think that, having nailed this missive to the LBKA’s beehive, a reformation will be set in motion.
Heigh-ho! In the meantime, I’m off to weed the allotment !