The buzz around honey bees

Beekeepers working at Felbrigg Hall

Faced by loss of habitat, disease, pesticides and climate change, honey bees have a lot to contend with. Find out what we are doing to help them survive.

Honey has sweetened human lives for thousands of years, but the news about bees in recent decades has been anything but sweet. Bee numbers are in serious decline which has serious implications for us all.

Our head of food and farming Rob Macklin says: ‘The decline of bees and other pollinating insects has been linked to the loss of flower-rich habitats due to the intensification of agriculture, the use of pesticides, urbanisation and industrial development. It’s vital for wildlife and crops to make space for these beneficial insects.’

How are we helping bees?

We’re protecting and celebrating honey bees in the 250,000 hectares of countryside we look after by providing them with homes. In 2010, we installed 40 hives in our ‘Bee part of it’ project and more have been added since, mostly managed by our gardeners and volunteers.

Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire has an observation hive so visitors can watch the bees at work, and Attingham Park in Shropshire boasts a 200-year-old Grade II-listed bee house that is also home to a bee information centre. 

The honey bee is under threat, but we are helping to protect them with hives at many of our places
Honey bee feeding on a dahlia flower
The honey bee is under threat, but we are helping to protect them with hives at many of our places

Supporting honey producers

Honey produced and sold at Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, was one of the winners of our 2015 Fine Farm Produce Awards. Bees gather nectar from Dinefwr’s trees and flower-rich hay meadows to produce a golden, floral-tasting honey that’s collected from six hives.

While there’s not enough regional honey to supply all of our shops, we do sell our own branded honey sourced from the Oxford Honey Company. Their honey is guaranteed to come from Britain and, unlike most mass-produced honeys, it’s raw and contains no additives.

Buy our branded honey

Supporting national schemes

As supporters of the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy, launched in November 2014, we are also taking practical steps to improve things for bees and other pollinator species. We are encouraging our 1,500 tenant farmers to follow suit.

We supported the EU moratorium in 2013 on the use of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids that has been linked to the decline in bee numbers.

Last summer the UK government granted emergency use of neonicotinoids to treat oilseed rape in some parts of England affected by flea beetle. We remain concerned that the impact of neonicotinoids on non-pest species is still not fully understood and await the outcome of Defra’s evidence review.

Bee-friendly gardens

In our gardens we’re planting more flowers, shrubs and trees that bloom throughout the year. We’re also leaving wild spaces for pollinators in odd corners of our places and mowing margins and hedges later to allow plants to flower longer, leaving insect nests undisturbed.

A growing number of our gardeners are shunning chemical pesticides in favour of bee-friendlier biological controls, garlic sprays or slug traps, and many are being trained in greener gardening techniques.

At home, we can all do our bit to keep bees buzzing. Provide bees with blooms in gardens or window boxes to give them nectar and pollen throughout the year. Follow this RHS link to find their lists of nectar-rich plants.

This article was first published in the National Trust magazine, spring 2016 issue.  Author: Clare Hargreaves.