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18 Nov

Beekeeping at The Wave

by Sam Bleakley

Bees at The Wave

In our on-going work to improve the biodiversity in and around The Wave site, we’ve recently established some new beehives with an exciting new business, Knights Beekeeping. This is not only an active way to support the declining honeybee population, but a brilliant way to  foster lasting connections between our Wavemaker team, visitors, the local community, and the local landscape, with sustainability at the heart. Bees have been around for millions of years, pollinating plants and producing honey. And a healthy and resilient bee population is extremely important for a healthy ecosystem. 

To find out more we caught up with Knights Beekeeping founder, Martin Knight. 

Why are bees so important? 

The bee population has been greatly diminished over the last decade, so we really need to look after them and support these essential pollinators. Sadly one third of the UK’s bee population has now disappeared. It means that 24% of Europe’s bees are now threatened with extinction, and 1 in 10 of Europe’s overall wild bee species are facing this risk too. This is all due to the huge threats bees face everyday through habitat loss, climate change, toxic pesticides and disease, which all means not enough natural resources for them to feed off. So we’ve really got to do our bit to support biodiversity, and beekeeping can help in a massive way. 

What attracted you to beekeeping in the first place? 

I initially got into bees about 10 years ago because my daughter had severe hay fever and we tried so many things with no success. Then we found that eating local single-source honey (gathered from one hive) was really good for settling down her hay fever. We soon learned that the list of health benefits from organic honey was incredible. It’s rich with antioxidants, helping to lower blood pressure, and studies show that it also helps reduce cholesterol - both contributing factors leading to heart attacks and strokes. And as we discovered with my daughter, local honey has been used for centuries to help treat hay fever. It really worked. And that got me passionate about bees. 

Tell us about the business that you run now

I used to work in design company, and I did a lot of communication for large corporates around the world about their sustainability programmes and what they do for the environment. I had started to keep bees, and I learned through that how beekeeping offered a very meaningful and tangible thing that companies could do for both employees and the environment. I came up with the idea to offer beekeeping to businesses, setting up hives and providing on-going support to manage them. So much of the environmental focus for business has been into things like not printing an email, or saving energy, or planting trees - which are all of course really good things.

But I realised that beekeeping can actually be a way people can get really involved and immersed and feel bit of ownership. So instead of taking from the planet, this was my way of giving something back. The practice of beekeeping is also amazing for our mental health because keeping bees requires us to be completely present in the moment. This helps us to be aware of our surroundings, find a sense of calm and trust ourselves with nature and the process. This can help reduce stress levels, lift our spirits and gain better perspective within our busy lives. 

What has been happening here at The Wave? 

Just a short distance to the northeast from the surfing lake there is a really different meadow-like environment with a lot of wild flowers. And we’ve got four hives here that we set-up in midsummer. They are just getting established, and we’re providing an environment for theses bees so that they can flourish and prosper and feed on all these lovely wild flowers. Obviously there's been a lot of development over time here in the Avonmouth area, so there is a lot of concrete and metal. Therefore the natural resources that remain are so important to protect and what you are doing here at The Wave is incredible.

This plot was low-grade farmland that did not have many hedgerows, or a lot of diversity of grass seeds or plants. So I can see that one of the things you have done in building The Wave has been to improve the biodiversity. You’ve already done this wonderful thing with this landscape, and now we're hoping to add to that by introducing more bees and helping this all to flourish. 

What types of flowers and plants do the bees like here? 

At the moment there is a lot of ivy, which is really brilliant for them. They also love the hedgerows that are full of brambles and blackthorn. And in early summer there were huge swathes of chamomile and buttercups, which they enjoy. And you've also got a lot of clover at the moment. Plus you've got loads of brooks and natural water sources around here, which is great. A lot of other plants, flowers, insect and bird life tend to thrive as the bees thrive, so a thriving bee population is an indicator of a really healthy environment. 

Now as we move into the winter the bees will be less active and will reduce in size just because there's less to forage. But one hive has about 30,000 to 60,000 bees, so the populations are really impressive. The worker bees live for 30 days, so they'll sweep out all the ones that have died. But it’s the queen who lays all the eggs and sets the tempo for what the bees are doing. They all have exact roles, and operate in this kind of dance with nature. But certainly the dance gets smaller and slower to get through winter. Then when spring comes in again and there is an abundance of food, the queen will start laying again, the populations will increase again, and the dance comes alive again. 

What will we do with the honey created here at The Wave? 

With honey it’s all about only taking if there is surplus. First and foremost we ensure that the bees have enough honey to do what they need to do to get through the winter. And if there's an abundance, then we harvest some of the yield. At the moment since the hives are so new this is really about engagement with your Wavemaker team, to really understand and enjoy the process of keeping the bees. We just tried the first harvest of honey which everyone loved. But I believe that the plan eventually is for visitors to be able to enjoy the honey, perhaps as something for guests to take away after a stay in The Camp. 

Local single-source honey is so good in our diet because it’s full of antioxidants and reduces cholesterol. It certainly helped my daughter with her hay fever. What’s interesting is the bees will work a six mile radius, so in many ways, honey is a bit like wine, where you have years with particularly great honey, and different flavours in other years. For example there may have been loads of lavender or dandelions or blackthorn in one year, and this will influence the flavours. Then things will change depending on the weather we have and what grows in the radius that the bees work, all impacting the colour, consistency and flavour. 

And what is really special is the way keeping bees grounds people and gets them aware of their local environment. It was really lovely watching your team of Wavemakers come together and connect with the bees, the landscape and the honey. This team engagement is something I really see happening positively through beekeeping. It’s a great way to get employees who don’t normally work together talking and doing. It generates a real vibrancy and unity. The hands-on experience of actually getting involved means that you are living and breathing what you stand for as a business. It’s brilliant for being mindful, allowing you to get immersed in the moment.