One of the most fascinating aspects of a recent tour of Lymestone Brewery was that Brad the brewer keeps his own bees and uses the honey in some of his beer. Although we didn't have the time (or possibly the inclination after several 'samples' of Stone Faced'!) to climb onto the roof to take a closer look, the concept of bees in the brewing process was of real interest to me and the gathered throng.
By coincidence, a couple of days later, Magners held an event in London in association with the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) and The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations (FIBKA). It was to promote the launch of Magners Bee Aid, a campaign to help save 1.5 million urban bees in the UK and Ireland. On the deck of the National Theatre, several thousand bees, 2 hives, and the Magners Head Bee Keeper from Clonmel Orchards were joined by numerous tentative but intrigued onlookers.
Honey bees are normally associated with the countryside yet the importance of urban bees is just as significant. Concern is growing however, as the number of bees in the UK is in dramatic decline.
As the hives were opened up, the colony was seen in all its glory. The illusive Queen Bee was nowhere to be seen, normally identifiable by the marking given to it by the keeper, but the hundreds of male drones (who do not work) and thousands of female workers, were busily going about their business - cue stereotypical joking amongst the amused spectators regarding male and female work ethics. It was intriguing to see how docile and nonchalant the bees were, having minimal interest in the surrounding audience.
The Queen is certainly busy, laying approximately 2000 eggs a day during April and May and the continued work of her colony mean that one hive produces on average 27kg of honey in a good season.
It is rumoured that Einstein said, 'If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.' The dramatic detail of the statement nor its originator are proven, however the implications are vast.
It is not just the honey that is of great importance to us and nature as a whole. It is the pollination of crops that is vital. There would certainly be no Magners Cider without the honey bees pollinating the apples in the Magners orchards!
The value of bees to the UK economy is valued at around £200m a year and certain crops enjoy a 25-40% greater yield if efficiently pollinated. It is estimated that a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. The retail value of their endeavours is believed to be approximately £1bn.
Pests and disease remain a constant threat. Varroa is described in human terms by the BBKA as like, 'having a bug the size of a dinner plate on your back, that bores a hole... The bug then sucks out your blood and spits back blood and possible infections from someone else into the hole in your back. Nasty.'
With all this in mind Magners have launched a free iPhone app as part of the campaign. For every download, they will donate 50 bees to the BBKA and another 50 every time the Facebook page receives a 'Like". They are also offering 25 Facebook 'fans' the chance to become fully fledged urban beekeepers and a scholarship that includes everything needed to create an urban hive and tend their own colony.
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