It was set to be a scorcher for West Rise Junior School’s annual Bee Fest: a celebration of the Bee Sanctuary and a chance for a mass Forest School session on the Marsh. This year, as well as the original Warré and newly-occupied top bar bee hives, there is now the Reptile Sanctuary adjacent to the apiary, and Kim had brought along a gorgeous, heavily-pregnant female common lizard, and a couple of teenage slowworms who were gently placed in large plastic tubs with vegetation for them to hide in. Paul and I were trying to not feel upstaged with such impressive beauties to show the children…
We were organising visits to the apiary, allowing 15 minutes per group: 10 minutes to get them in to bee suits and gauntlets, and 5 minutes in the apiary! There were 90 children to accommodate so we showed them the hives, reassured them about the lack of stings, and watched them soon become fascinated by the foragers coming and going with fat packets of pollen from the nearby clover and thistles. Both hives have observation windows so we briefly opened them up to an admiring and inevitable “WOW!!” at the sight of the combs brimming with bees. We showed them drones, with their rectangular furry bodies and wraparound eyes, but of course they all wanted to see the queen. Having explained that she really doesn’t like the light so will be deep inside the combs, laying eggs and being fed and groomed by her attendant daughters, the children went back to the main group having had the chance to be among the bees feeling totally safe, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the apiary without disturbing the bees themselves.
They all noticed the grasshoppers and blue damselflies – this is such an important aspect of the work we are doing at the Marsh. Bees send out a mixed conservation message: they are charismatic little things but honeybees really do not represent a threatened species. At all. However, they do draw attention to the plight of other pollinators and bee species who are struggling, so they have a huge value in terms of public engagement, particularly with children. The biodiversity in the apiary section, now with it’s tacked on reptile habitat is engendering a new phase of discussion and input from different people about how best to conserve the Marsh and its inhabitants, with exciting discoveries of species which can trace their lineage back to prehistoric times. More on them soon.
The grass has grown so long, providing excellent cover for the reptiles, and food for them in the undergrowth too, as they eat slugs, snails and small invertebrates. The children were able to use butterfly nets to sweep the grass, and hoops to use as quadrats.
After a delicious lunch eaten around the brazier, the Year 5s arrived. The Eastbourne Shed had brought a table loaded with pre-cut bug hotels and bird boxes, ready for the children to finish constructing, bringing more diversity to the Bee Sanctuary ethos.
The older children visited the apiary as before, and were similarly intrigued, and a little less spooked by them than the younger year group had been, although there is is always the impression that there is an air of slight disappointment that nobody got stung! The bees did brilliantly, as they are not used to much human contact and everybody enjoyed getting up close and seeing the bees ‘wash their faces’ before they leave the hive; bees sweep over their compound eyes with special hairs on the front set of legs to clear their vision before setting out.
So, a successful Bee Fest, and we look forward to seeing what the Marsh has in store for us as the year continues. Many thanks to the Head, Mike, Helen of Forest School, and the teachers, helpers and children for letting us join in your day.