This is the big, necessary and progressive brother of sustainable beekeeping, and to me, represents a crystallisation of what I have learned through observing both my own bees and other colonies in all manner of hives and situations.
So, how can beekeeping *improve* the environment where we run our hives? Agriculture, development, and a myriad other human activities have depleted the landscape on which the bees rely but the systems are changing, and our honey bees can indicate the efficacy and impact of our positive inputs, giving tangible visual data on what’s going on around us.
Honey bees evolved to live in woodlands, and can manage their living arrangements without frequent inspections by human beings, IF the right bees are used, and they are kept in a correctly constructed and insulated hive. They offer far more than simply honey, and in the same way we are now looking at livestock to provide a valuable, unique role in soil health and carbon sequestration beyond their former production solely for meat, so a hive of bees can represent a ‘proxy’ population to illustrate and demonstrate the fitness of your site for pollinators. Bees, wax, pollen, and honey can all be observed – and tested – to give another layer of information about the health of your land. Sadly I have yet to come up with a snappy, bee-related equivalent of “it’s not the cow, it’s the how” (Thank you, Bobby Gill); answers on a postcard, please…
I will be looking at these points in more detail, but here are the main advantages to this style of beekeeping:
- low input; low output system, reducing the necessity for heavy investment with time, equipment, and initial outlay
- strategic siting of hives to allow easy collection of most valuable information relating to your site
- using local, resilient strains of bees, best suited to the conditions and fending for themselves with minimal intervention and kept in low densities to not outcompete existing species or increase disease
- numerous marketing opportunities without needing large/any honey yields
- regular observation of the hives is in keeping with other tasks to facilitate ease of data collection
- proxy for other pollinators on site, and can illustrate efficacy of environmental measures and guide future planning and provision with real, testable data
- preferential feeding on tree pollen and nectar by honey bees makes them perfect for use in agroforestry/regenerative schemes
- forms part of your suite of biodiversity initiatives by kickstarting and focussing pollinator/insect habitat – the bedrock of a healthy ecosystem
- research opportunities for wax, pollen, honey, and forager analysis
- collaborations with other regenerative beekeepers to establish best practise and share experiences and findings
I have been working with a number of projects where the bees are kept intentionally with minimal intervention, as indeed are my own hives. It is a case of trusting the bees and the system and having seen what the bees can show us it would be great to add some rigour to these observations and use them to show what’s going on. This is my project for this year. Want to join me?