Caring for our native honeybees

A close up of bees in a hive

There's a noticeable buzz around Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle recently. Over the past year we have successfully welcomed hives full of native honeybees into both gardens - and they are quite simply loving life as National Trust members.

Caring for nature is a big part of what we do at the National Trust. From campaigning to save and look after important places on our coast to creating a space for nature through the acquisition of internationally renowned botanical site like Pen y Gogarth -  a wild cotoneaster that does not exist anywhere else in the world and two unique sub-species of butterfly; the Great Orme Grayling and the Silver-studded Blue.

As part of our commitment to caring for nature we've enlisted the help of local beekeeper and National Trust tenant Katie Hayward to make our gardens buzz with excitement once again.

Over the past year Katie, who runs Felin Honeybees - Honey Farm and Education Centre at Cemlyn on the north Anglesey coast, has introduced some of her hives to Penrhyn Castle and Plas Newydd.

After giving Katie and her 'girls' time to settle in, we thought it was time we learned a little more about this project to care for our native bee species and help our gardens flourish  - so we gave her a light grilling over coffee...

Lots of Katie's work involves education, aided by her special see through hive.
Katie Hayward and her glass education hive

What first made you decide to become a beekeeper?

I fell in love with bees around 20 years ago and chose beekeeping as a way to escape the pressures of life and a little escape from a demanding career in construction project management.

In a life where all you do is rush around my time with the bees allowed me to slow down as you can’t rush nature.

What made you choose Penrhyn and Plas Newydd as sites for your hives??

Pollination is vital for all plants and listed gardens need our bees more than they ever have and I’m just happy to help.

Both Plas Newydd and Penrhyn Castle hold a family connection for me. A relative of mine was a minister to the slate quarry workers that built Penrhyn and another relative was the Marchioness of Anglesey’s dressmaker. In fact one of the garments she made is on display in the house. Both properties are such amazing places that would be lost without the commitment of the National Trust.

How many hives are there at Penrhyn and Plas Newydd?

We have 10 hives in Plas Newydd that play a vital role in the pollination for the Coronation Meadow and gardens and 6 hives at Penrhyn Castle that pollinate around the Walled Garden and Water Garden.

What type of bees are they?

Our bees are native black bees and were selected as they have a gorgeous and gentle temperament. They are also really good at coping with the range of weather changes we have in North Wales.

What types of flowers or plants do they like?

Honeybees love all flowers that produce nectar and pollen but they do go crazy for the lambs ears and lavender by the main house at Plas Newydd!  Our girls will even pose for visitors to take photos of them. 

The range of flowers in Penrhyn castle from snowdrops to the beautiful fuscia arch is a real treat for them too.

The best thing is that the amazing designers of these gardens, over a century ago, designed them to flower throughout the year which is great for the bees.

When the gardens were designed there would have been a resident beekeeper, like me, on site to ensure these flowers carried on for generations to enjoy as part of their legacy. It is so great that we can play our little part in doing that again now..

How much honey do they make and what happens to it?

Each hive produces around 100lb’s of honey in a season and we will soon be selling our honey at each house so visitors can take a little taste of both Penryhn Castle and Plas Newydd home with them.

Caring for native bees is just one way that we help conserve our natural surroundings.
Beekeepers carefully remove a frame from a beehive.

Do bees hibernate?

Looking after our bees is a full time all year round job as a honeybee does not sleep or hibernate. We care for them come rain or shine 12 months a year.

What are the main threats to bees?

There are so many threats but the main 4 are climate change, pesticides, loss of habitat and so many different diseases brought in by importing bees.

The latest big threat is The Asian Hornet that arrived in the UK last autumn. This invader is the beekeepers worst nightmare and could be devastating. We will be asking visitors to be on the look out and let us know straight away if they see it.

How can we help and do you ever need volunteer beekeepers?

We're always looking for volunteer beekeepers and as a volunteer you will gain a beekeeping qualification and support to be the beekeeper our girls deserve.

We're also always on the lookout for carpenters and anyone that's handy with a paintbrush to help give our hives a facelift.

You can also learn how to 'bee' a keeper and help look after our bees.
Volunteer beekepers in training at Felin Honeybees at National Trust farm at Cemlyn on Anglesey

If someone was interested in starting beekeeping how would they go about it?

We run a full beginners Beekeeping Course here in Cemlyn and we set you up with your first hive with local bees and support you through that first vital year.

Anyone can be a beekeeper we have students from the age of 3 to 80. Once you meet the girls and get the buzz of beekeeping you are hooked. To book a course people can simply email us on info@felinhoneybees.com.

Finally, what are your top 5 bee facts?

  • Bees have been around for 93 million years
  • Bees are the only insect that creates food for us
  • The first hive was made by the Egyptians who worshiped the honeybee as a god
  • Bees are in BIG trouble and will not survive without our immediate help
  • Without the honeybee our world as we know it would not survive another decade. It is quite simply that serious!

 

You can visit the bees and meet Katie during our brand new Bee Week at Plas Newydd during July.