2014 EBKA Annual Conference – 11th October at Runnymede Hall, Thundersley.
Our (Southend Committee) vision was to cover subjects that we have not heard over the last few years; to visit topics and practices that would challenge us and encourage active discussion on key principles of beekeeping practice, ethics and concepts. Thus, we titled the conference ‘Beekeeping for All’; which is encapsulated in our divisional objectives.
There was plenty of conversation on the tables at the arrival, during coffee breaks and over lunch partly due to meeting acquaintances – the conference is a social occasional after all, partly due to the thought provoking presentations. Our caterers (Affinity1777) did a superb job of feeding the attendees. A two course lunch was provided aside from the teas and coffees and all seemed well disposed to the culinary treats: the honey flapjack went down well with after dinner coffee.
Our Master of Ceremonies (and President of the Southend Division); David Blackwood, did a professional job of introducing speakers and keeping time for proceedings. His management of the lunch queue was second to none.
Dr Nicola Bradbear started off the talks with her presentation on the work of Bees for Development. Strangely, Nicola was also at the 2005 conference that Southend hosted so it was like a home from home – well almost! Her talk was well received even if the microphone was minded to thwart the attempt. Whilst the talk covered the who’s and what’s of the charity, it did a good job of highlighting that beekeeping in third world countries is a means to make life a little easier; it brings in much needed honey (foodstuff) but more importantly an income. In these places you make your own hives out of those materials you find and colony death or a bad honey harvest can mean a time of famine, or not being able to send your kids to school as you simply do not have the income from homey sales. Bees for Development have been involved in projects in 53 locations around the world including Chechnya, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Chile and Iraq. Nicola focused on current projects in Ethiopia and Kyrgyzstan where the charity helps people to make beekeeping a financially viable option to ease poverty by providing not just beekeeping information but much needed financial guidance and links to co-operatives and other people in the market chain.
Bearing in mind that the hives used (a hollowed log, top bar design hive, a wicker skep etc. ) are very rudimentary the beekeepers seem to bring in a good surplus of honey and whilst they do have similar diseases issues as us they are not as prolific as to cause the level of problems we experience. Nicola explained that the Beekeepers in these places practice ‘Extensive’ beekeeping as opposed to ‘Intensive’ beekeeping. Intensive practice focuses on maximising honey production and trying to control more of the factors that affect health and honey production: think battery chickens – as you bring a larger population together the health risks increase and the need to control the environment to maintain productivity increases. Extensive practice means that you may have several colonies in the same area (i.e. tree), but you aren’t trying to take the maximum amount of honey from the colony, just want is ‘surplus’. Nicola explained that one young beekeeper (15 yrs. old) managed 50 colonies! The whole premise of beekeeping is different, but works exceedingly well.
Our next talk was by Heidi Herrman of the Natural Beekeeping Trust. I was pleased to note as I took pictures from the back of the hall that the whole audience was stock still and silent, listening intently to her talk. Still, we had mastered the microphone by then, so perhaps that helped! Heidi was originally to speak on ‘Varroa Destructor or Varroa Instructor’, which in some ways she did, but not quite as I imagined 10 months ago when she informed us of her title. Her talk was effectively a journey of how she came to the conclusions that gave rise to the Natural Beekeeping Trust and why she challenges conventional beekeeping practices. Oddly it is intertwined with the BBKA debacle of having endorsed in past years pesticide producing companies such as Bayer; Heidi has been keeping bees some 16 years. I think one of the draws to Heidi, if you have opportunity to speak with her, is that she genuinely has a true respect and fascination for beekind. A reverence I have not encountered amongst British beekeepers and I think this was engendered in her experiences of beekeeping in Europe (notably her homeland; Germany), and where she chanced upon the Biodynamics movement. One thing she highlighted was that the whole concept of beekeeping in Europe is far more Holistic than in Britain on the whole and the bees are far more docile and gentle. She showed a number of pictures of children holding frames of bees without a jot of protection; like the beekeepers who no doubt handed it over. Although, we sadly did not get a chance to question any of the speakers I dearly wanted to ask Heidi what the attraction was to her hives by the reported large number of Regional Bee Inspectors. At one meeting she reports that 7 bee inspectors came to inspect. Not because there was any disease issue but simply to see and experience her bees and practices. I can’t help but think that there must be something to offer us beekeepers here even if you don’t buy 100% into the no treatment sphere. Indeed, Heidi highlighted that it was a decision: you had to change all aspects of your beekeeping if you were to practice no treatment in its true form. One thing struck accord with me. I have often felt that the treatment of chemo or radio therapy which destroys the whole body’s immune system and thus leaves it vulnerable an odd practice rather than target the issue and assist the bodies very developed systems to fight any condition. I think Heidi was trying to say something similar. She recounted how when treating her bees in the early years of her beekeeping she would hear the roar of the bees to the chemicals in the colony. This made her begin to question if this was the right thing to do. Yes it worked, but did it weaken the bees and leave them vulnerable to other conditions that we then had to treat for? I have used MAQS strips these past few years. It works well. This year I noticed that a few colonies reacted what I thought strangely. A large number of bees, maybe 1/3 of the colony clustered outside the colony front, and remained there over night as the formic acid did its thing inside. So bad was the environment the bees removed themselves from it in doves like we would if there was a fire in our house. It does make you wonder…
Our last speaker was Terry Clare who covered the necessities for successful Queen rearing and was a good balance, on reflection, to the morning’s talks which were more alternative in their views. As with any conference the next speaker is always able to comment and interact with points raised in the previous and Terry did highlight a few things in his talk. He began by highlighting that Beekeepers have responsibility; to our bees, us and the Public which should be considered at all times. He also made the point that essentially British beekeepers are ‘small’ beekeepers with most having no more than 4 hives; real hobbyist beekeepers. He also made the comparison with Europe that, OK; there are 25,000 of us but by EU country terms that is tiny – TINY, as a population of beekeepers in other EU States. Terry went on to cover the characteristics we look for in our bees, the stock we use and the need for diligence in disease checking to raise healthy queens along with a good supply of mixed pollen and lashings of foodstuff. He did put an interesting perspective on Swarming. Swarming is preservation, not reproduction. He puts forward that why would a colony swarm unless a survival trigger has tripped to tell the bees that resources are not good here and it is time to preserve themselves and send out colonies to other areas. Fortunately, we had time spare at the end and di hold a questions forum but due to travel commitments Nicola and Heidi were not present to partake, so Terry held the floor and imparted further gems of wisdom before the close.
As with all conferences, awards for educational and show achievements were called out for acknowledgement by all and presented to those in attendance.