We all love honey on our toast or porridge but locally produced British honey is a relatively rare commodity as almost 90% of all the honey consumed in the UK is imported from elsewhere.
Some lucky people are aware of a local beekeeper who might be able to provide them with a few jars a year. That is because usually, in the UK, most honey comes from amateur beekeepers with around 3-5 colonies kept as a hobby, producing small volumes of honey for themselves, family and friends. There are currently around 25,000 members of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) in the UK steadily growing each year.
Unlike elsewhere in Europe and elsewhere, there are relatively few professional bee farmers in the UK (around 600 in total). Bee farmers also have a critical role to play in providing commercial pollination services as up to 75% of all commercial crops depend on insect pollination for fruit or seed set or yield. Bringing large numbers of beehives onto crops during flowering can increase yields by up to 20% as well as generating a good source of honey for the bee farmer.
The continuing rapid decline in wild bees and other pollinators is starting to ring alarm bells within many Governments as if not stopped we could see a direct impact in our food production and food security across Europe. Managed honeybees can help fill the gap, but are also ultimately subject to the same downward pressures as other pollinators, hence the deep concern regarding habitat decline and pesticide use.
In addition, the average age of bee farmers in the UK is around 66 years. With so much of our honey currently imported from countries outside the EU with relatively poor husbandry standards and the increasing need for pollination services to boost crop yields, it’s been estimated that we will need close to 1000 new bee farmers over the next decade or face lower availability of produce and potentially higher food prices.
Luckily the UK’s Bee Farmers Association (BFA) is aware of the situation and has created a new three-year apprentice scheme funded by Rowse Honey and also the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers – a London Guild dating back to the 1300’s supported by others including Bee Good. Their “Bee a Beefarmer” scheme was launched in 2014 and is recruiting and training a growing number of 16-24 year olds across the UK and may soon be expanded to those over 25 looking for a rural career.
We've sponsored the Bee Farmer Associations apprentice scheme over the past two years. Our first sponsored apprentice was Seb based working with Dave Rayner in Lancashire and more recently we have sponsored Lara working in her family business Brackley Bees in Northampton. It helps that Lara has a degree in Biomedical Science and also shares our passion for natural skincare. This new generation of enthusiastic, knowledgeable Bee Farmers like Lara and her colleagues will ultimately be partly responsible for helping to protect our food security as a nation as well as supporting farmers to create more wildflower refuges for the native pollinators. They will also have a role in helping to educate the public to the importance of our buzzy little friends and encourage them to keep pressure on the politicians to “do the right thing…”