Bees go under the hammer on the coast

Allan Jefferson with honeycomb from his beehives in Staithes. Picture by Gerard Binks.
Allan Jefferson with honeycomb from his beehives in Staithes. Picture by Gerard Binks.
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THe plight of the humble honeybee is a tale of disease, mites and poor weather but enthusiasm for beekeeping in Yorkshire has boomed as more people have become concerned about their decline.

Seizing the moment, funding of £1.3m has today been awarded to a project that aims to nurture the species, and other under threat pollinators, by reintroducing habitats loaded with vital forage on school grounds across the country.

With investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Learning through Landscapes’ Polli:Nation programme will be open to applications from Yorkshire schools and will encourage pupils to take a hands on role in protecting pollinator populations.

Meanwhile, a family of beekeepers in Staithes is hoping an auction of honeybees, the surplus of a strong summer season last year, will encourage those who are a little older to start up on their own. Beekeeping is a traditional craft which dates back more than 5,000 years.

Twenty hives, each comprising of around 10,000 bees, will go under the hammer at an auction arranged by the Jeffersons in Ellerby on April 26 and will be expected to fetch around £200 each. Among the colonies and beekeeping equipment for sale will be native black honeybees - a hardy species that thrives in the area because they forage at lower temperatures and spend long periods of confinement in hives.

It is rare for black bees to come onto the market, says Tony Jefferson, a second generation beekeeper and chairman of Yorkshire Beekeepers’ Association: “What is particularly uncommon about this auction is that we have local black bees for sale. A number of our beekeepers have surplus colonies this year and are looking to dispose of them and get some beginners set up with hives.

“With the mild winter we have had people have quite a number of colonies and they are prepared to part with them. It’s not been organised to make a profit, it is really to get the market ready for anyone that wants to come in and start beekeeping.

“There’s a lot of interest cropping up from far and wide. The last time we had any black bees for sale people came from all over the country and I would think it will be the same this time too.”

Beekeeping has grown increasingly popular, Tony says. More than 1,800 registered beekeepers are members of the Yorkshire Beekeepers’ Association.

“I think its popularity has reached its peak now,” says Tony. “The fact that bees are recognised as being under threat and a lot of publicity about that saw a lot of people get involved.”

The varroa mite has been identified as a probable contributory cause of honeybee decline, after the European honeybee picked up the mite from South East Asia, while bacteria, fungi and viruses - an increase of which has been linked by some researchers to global warming - and the use of pesticides are also suspected of causing damage.

For details about the auction, to be presided over by auctioneer Robert Smith, contact the Whitby Beekeepers’ Association via www.bbka.org.uk/local/whitby

A Family Affair

Three generations of the Jefferson family are involved in beekeeping across four sites in the Staithes area.

“Dad’s kept bees since he was 12 so it was natural that I’d get involved,” says Tony, 52, of his father Allan, 79. “It’s a hobby that’s got out of control.”

Tony’s nephew Richard, 25, helps out and the honey from their hives is supplied to Botham’s of Whitby to stock hampers that are sold worldwide.

They have 60 colonies and expect to keep double in the summer. Each year about a tonne of honey is harvested.

A colony of their black bees were once loaned to The Queen’s beekeeper to cross breed with continental species’ in central London.