An afternoon at the School Apiary

It was a hot and sultry afternoon to meet at the Marsh to discuss hedgerow plans, and how to integrate the various demands on the site in a sympathetic and unified manner. Paul and I met with Mike Fairclough, the Head of West Rise Junior School; Virginia Pullen, Chief Landscape Architect for East Sussex County Council; Simon Hurt, Open Space Advisor for Eastbourne & Lewes Council; and Kim Dawson, ecologist for the same. Alex the farm manager was also on hand, he and Mike having had an entertaining morning marshalling the resident water buffalo for TB testing.

We were wanting to discuss grazing management, hedgerows, field boundaries and how these fitted in with the overall philosophy of the site. Virginia had written the initial landscape evaluation and we wanted her input regarding the ongoing alterations and whether or not they would be in keeping with the original plan. Here is Paul’s map of the area we were talking about:

As Simon pointed out, hedgerows are not necessarily a fit with the marshland, and the cost and time involved with maintaining even a fairly ‘rural’ looking hedge is significant. Alex has his own requirements regarding the agricultural status and needs of grazing livestock, and Mike uses the land extensively with his numerous range of Forest School and outdoor classroom activities, for which he is justifiably well-regarded. Kim’s primary concern for her reptile relocation zone is biodiversity, and we beekeepers are mainly interested in forage provision for our colony and other pollinators, and reducing the effects of the prevailing wind on the apiary site (although the usually relentlessly breezy conditions were not in evidence yesterday when it would have been quite welcome…), so with all of us looking at slightly different things with the Marsh, it was an interesting discussion. The overriding thought for us all was to conserve the beauty and unique historical resonance of the site while meeting the needs of the wildlife, grazing stock and public access.

The ungrazed area in the Reptile Zone and the newly-fenced Corral had clover, bird’s-foot trefoil and some emerging thistles – the latter getting a thumbs up from the biodiversity camp, and a thumbs down from Alex!

There were hundreds of grasshoppers, and some pale moths flitting among the vegetation. The first of the slowworms, common lizards and grass snakes have been brought to the site, so hopefully they are finding their er, feet so to speak and enjoying the hibernacula and basking areas that have been provided for them.

We then dispersed having been given plenty to think about, and Paul and I crossed to the Apiary to check on how the bees were doing. A few weeks ago, Paul had been told that the bees were ‘flying around in a cloud’ which sounded suspiciously like a swarm, so we wondered what we were going to find. We were thrilled to discover this:

Bees in the top bar hive, opposite the Warré! They have been there a few weeks, judging by what we saw through the observation window, so we now have two colonies at the School Apiary. We had baited the hive with a drop of lemongrass oil, and a chunk of old comb, so we are assuming the bees from the Warré swarmed in to the top bar, similar to last year where they swarmed from the National across to the Warré. This is quite unusual as bees normally look to take themselves further away from the parent colony, given the idea of swarming is to reproduce, to populate a new area and mix the gene pool. The combs are diagonally across the bars so checking them is going to be tricky but we can see how they’re getting on through the window.

We had a look at the Warré bees, and although quite low on stores following the miserable June weather we’ve had for the past couple of weeks, they seem to be fit and well. We removed the bottom box as it was a bit warped and they are unlikely to need it now as they have to build up numbers and stores again since splitting in two.

So, a positive visit all round.

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