Begin beekeeping, West Sussex

Julia Bradbury gets up close and personal - a little too much so - to find out about a new, natural style of beekeeping

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New Year’s resolutions. They can be very personal – stopping smoking, let’s say, or vowing to exercise more. Or they can be wider-reaching – resolving to be more conscious of the environment, do voluntary work or put a new skill to use. If you’ve pledged to get out and about in the countryside more in 2013, there are plenty of activities to choose from.

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As you take your first post-Christmas hike this January,
in an attempt to shed the muffin-top that popped over your jeans on Boxing Day, your thoughts might turn to the bees. Bees have been in decline over decades; in the winter of 2009/10 Britain lost a third of its bee colonies.

Bees are a vital part of our ecology and they are an important indicator of the ecosystem’s overall health. If you still don’t give a bumble, you should – worldwide, they are also directly responsible for pollinating at least 30 percent of the food crops we eat. Yet there’s increasing concern over colony collapse disorder (which causes adult bees to abandon their hives). The problem has been discussed for years by scientists. The likely cause is a combination of parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrition and pesticides.

A sting in the tail

With this in the back of my mind, it was with gusto that I spent a week last year trying to reduce the swelling around my left eye, following an unfortunate sting in the company of Heidi Herrmann’s honeybees. Heidi is the president of the Natural Beekeeping Trust, based in West Sussex, and she was talking me through the problem of colony collapse disorder.

We approached the bees minus the ‘toxic waste removal suit’ that Heidi despises, and regrettably a little bee got caught in my hair and tried to make its escape via my upper cheek. Over the course of several mornings I woke up looking like I’d done a few rounds with Mike Tyson. My swelling was not instantaneous and after Heidi had placed an onion on my cheek (good for swelling, apparently) she continued to explain.

Working together

In essence, the Natural Beekeeping Trust believes
that we don’t have a right to the bees’ honey. Through illness, pesticides and human manipulation, the bees are clearly suffering. So, by maintaining your own hive and using its resources responsibly, there’s a good chance you can make 2013 the year you do something for the bees. Luckily, the Trust is on hand to provide some much-needed help.

Heidi would like people to consider taking up beekeeping, and investigate the pioneering sun hive that the Trust prefers to use. Its unusual, elongated, curved shape is designed to replicate the natural movement of a bee colony and encourage more wild behaviour. Woven from straw around a base of wooden hoops, it’s quite a beautiful beast.

The Trust also provides
a range of talks, courses
and workshops – from an introduction to honeybees and their care, to discussions on the future of beekeeping, along with the practical skill of weaving your own sun hive. Needless
to say, I was left buzzing.

Useful Information

USEFUL INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE

From the M25, take J6 south on to the A22/Lewes Road, following the road past East Grinstead to Forest Row, where a left turn takes you
to Emerson College. By rail, East Grinstead station is regularly
served by London stations.

FIND OUT MORE

The Natural Beekeeping Trust

Ashurstwood,
Sussex RH19 3RX

01342 822101

naturalbeekeepingtrust.org

EAT

The Old House at Home

63-65 West Street,

Dormansland,

Surrey RH7 6QP

01342 836828

the-old-house-at-home.co.uk

Cosy country pub (below), offering traditional favourites and ales

STAY

Cranston House 

Cranston Road,
East Grinstead RH19 3HW

01342 323609

www.cranstonhouse.co.uk

Friendly guest house in walking distance of the town centre.

NEARBY

Wier Wood Reservoir

Forest Row, East Sussex

01273 482736

www.weirwood.me.uk

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This 1½ mile long body of water
is popular for sailing, and a Site
of Special Scientific Interest.