Honey makes the world go around

Helix beekeepers Ann MacDonald, Craig MacDonald, Sandy Laird, Andrew Batham and Tracey Fullerton
Helix beekeepers Ann MacDonald, Craig MacDonald, Sandy Laird, Andrew Batham and Tracey Fullerton

At a secret location in woodland on the outskirts of Falkirk, there’s a real buzz of activity.

Thousands of workers are busy getting used to their new homes and sussing out where the best places are to eat locally.

But these workmen don’t wear hard hats or overalls. Instead they can all be identified by their striking yellow and black markings.

They are of course honeybees – and a colony of more than 20,000 of them has recently been installed as part of a community project sponsored by The Helix Trust, the organisation behind the Kelpies project.

That might sound like a lot of bees for one location, but not when you consider that around 5000 live in each hive.

The colony was built by a team of local volunteers who are now responsible for its upkeep.

They are amongst a growing number of urban beekeepers who are helping to protect an insect that plays an important role in all our lives.

We might think of them as being a familiar sight in our gardens, but the reality is that in the past decade honeybee numbers across Europe have been dropping at an alarming rate.

The population of the larger bumblebee is also in sharp decline.

Scientists are unsure what exactly is causing this loss. Various theories blame a combination of the loss of the honeybee’s natural habitat, modern pesticides sprayed on crops and global warming. But there is no doubt about the potentially catastrophic impact on our eco system if bee numbers continue to drop.

One third of the food we eat is dependent on honeybee pollination.

So it’s in all our interests to ensure that honeybees continue to thrive.

Ronnie Simpson, head of business development at The Helix, is the driving force behind Falkirk’s newest bee colony.

Keen to promote social enterprise and offer new skills to the public, he set up a beekeeping course last year.

The Helix arranged for the Kilsyth-based Kelvin Valley Honey to train volunteers in how to build and maintain hives.

A year later, The Falkirk Herald accompanied Ronnie to view the recently established colony.

Hidden from view, the colony’s exact location is a closely guarded secret.

“We need to give the bees a chance to establish themselves in their new home and not be interfered with,” he says as he surveys the new hives.

“But they’re settling in well. One hive has already started to produce honey.”

As part of the social enterprise agreement, half of the honey produced by the Helix colony will be given to Kelvin Valley Honey for a period of two years.

It is envisaged by this time the colony will be completely self-sufficient. It is also part of the long-term plan that the honey produced will be sold at The Helix gift shop once the Kelpies have opened next year.

“I was always keen to include community projects as part of The Helix,” adds Ronnie.

“Local farmers should be pleased. There’s a lot of cereal planting in the Falkirk area. More bees should mean an increase in the yield of crops.”

Inside the fenced off colony, five volunteers are tending to their hives as thousands of bees buzz around them. The insects are Buckfast bees – named not after the drink, but the Devon abbey in which they were first bred.

Amongst them is Ann MacDonald, a quantity surveyer from Larbert, who signed up to become a beekeeper along with son Craig.

“I’d read so much in the press about the decline in bee numbers. When the opportunity came to join the project I jumped at the chance. Building a hive yourself can be quite expensive.”

Sandy Laird, a retiree from Stenhousemuir, says that beekeeping is the perfect hobby for him. “It keeps me active and allows me to enjoy the outdoors.”

The volunteers all wear protective clothing when tending to their hives, but none appear to be concerned about being stung.

Ronnie is confident once the colony is proved to be a success, The Helix will organise another beekeeping course and establish more hives in the area.

After all, the first course has already created a real buzz.