Heron Hill Primary School in Kendal is a hive of activity – literally. Features Writer Rob Bullock discovers that fire, death, murder, intrigue and boys against girls is just a normal day in the life of the bee hives at Heron Hill.
Set in six acres of beautiful lush grounds, Heron Hill Primary school has the space to accommodate most of the extra-curricular activities that make school life in our area so special but in one, not so quiet, corner of the park, I discovered some of the youngest members of the British Bee Keeping Association.
“We’re so proud that our bee keepers have all passed their bee keeping exams,” says inspirational Queen Bee and School Governor, Jacqui Cottam. “And considering that the junior bee keeping exams are normally taken by 14 – 18 year olds we’re really proud of our children who are much younger than that.”
INCLUSIVE BEE KEEPING
Jacqui’s interest in bees started at primary school too, helping her settle and now she has discovered that this inclusive pastime can help pupils who wants to go along to her bee hut; “bee keeping is very inclusive. It’s fifty/fifty boy girl and anyone can take part.”
According to the young experts at Heron Hill life inside the hive is anything but peaceful though. Some bees are much more equal than others. Although the Queen has a great life, being waited on hand and foot, some of the poor males often get tortured, mutilated and killed when the going gets tough. “That’s just everyday life in a hive,” chuckled Heron Hill’s Queen Bee, “we’ve learned such a lot by studying what goes on in there.”
UPS AND DOWNS
Along with the support of the teachers and Head, Peter Hicks, Heron Hill took delivery of their first bees in May 2017 but although much was learned the soggy summer that year meant that their small friends were only able to feed on twelve days out of 266 and the colony was lost on Christmas Eve.
The better weather of 2018 however means that the buzzing colony of Apis in south Cumbria are having a much better time of it. All spring and summer the worker bees have been flying around Kendal, foraging up to three miles per sortie, collecting pollen to make honey.
The Heron Hill bees are definitely well looked after; “we think that our hard-working bees deserve to keep their honey, so we only harvest what they don’t need and we make sure that they are well fed throughout the winter.” Knowledgeable young bee keepers. You cannot fail to be impressed by the range and depth of knowledge that the young bee keepers of Heron Hill have about their subject. As well as knowing many Latin and technical terms they have studied in detail the life span of their subject, social structure, food sources and potential threats.
And if you happen to be a bee you need all the friends you can get. Wasps are public enemy number one with the sighting of just one meaning the possible destruction of an entire community. The teeny weeny Verroa mite is just as big a threat as wasps and the bee keepers have their eyes constantly peeled on the lookout. The biggest threat to bees generally come from us humans and especially neonicotinoid pesticides that have just been banned.
BUSY BEE KEEPERS
What exactly do the young bee keepers at Heron Hill do?
“The children do EVERYTHING in the hives,” says Jacqui, “inspecting the bees weekly for disease and prevention of swarms in the summer, extracting honey, hive maintenance, melting down wax to make candles and polish. They make up frames and so they develop good wood work skills. They light and manage smokers safely. They monitor the hives in winter to ensure the bees have enough stores to get them through to spring and they protect the hives against pests before winter. It is a very busy life being a beekeeper!”
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP BEES?
“Loss of habitat is such a big problem for bees that we can all make a massive difference in our own gardens,” says Jacqui. By not strimming or cutting your garden as much you can helps bees – dandelions are a real favourite so let them flower. By letting a part of your plot grow wild you can also help encourage the flowers that bees like to feed on. And you can also plant bee friendly plants such as lavender or honeysuckle. All these things can make a big difference to our bees which according to Albert Einstein are vital to life itself. One young member of the bee keeping team expertly informed me that as over 75% of our food comes from pollination, if we didn’t have bees we would all be dead within four years, according to Einstein.
Apart from caring for their own thriving bee community Heron Hill’s young bee keepers are busy. One young bee keeper has already taken his studies to the next level, helping his granddad maintain his own hives. Others will help younger students at the school gain the knowledge that they’ve acquired. The Queen Bee hopes that her shining stars will prove an example for others; “I really hope that the bee team at Heron Hill become bee ambassadors, helping other children and grown-ups see how fascinating and worthwhile keeping bees can be!”
Please see the school website for more details www.heronhill.cumbria.sch.uk