Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. Pollination is, however, a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, the United Nations designated 20 May as World Bee Day.
Whilst the Dockyard is steeped in maritime history and is often thought of as a very industrialised site, one lesser known part of the historic estate is the Dockyard Apiary, which is teeming with life at this time of year.
Every Wednesday afternoon during ‘Swarm Season’ our team open each hive and do an inspection. Swarm Season results in Queen bees laying thousands of eggs every day and new bees are emerging all the time. The colonies get bigger and bigger, occupying more space, so inspections around this time are more essential than ever. We are looking for Queen cells, checking the health of the bees and most importantly making sure there is plenty of room for them all to live happily together.
Should the bees be running low on room, we can make the hives bigger by adding levels of comb. This is also where the bees store the honey which we will harvest later in the year.
So how do you identify the queen bee?
The queen is marked with a coloured dot for two reasons. Firstly, so we can see her easily in a crowd of bees and secondly so we know what year she was hatched. There are 5 different colours as queen bees only live for around 3-5 years. This means we will not have 2 queens born in different years with the same colour.
The Dockyard Apiary
Set in a quiet and secluded spot, complete with a freshwater pond, the apiary was installed two years ago as part of a long-term project to support the local ecosystem and improve biodiversity on the heritage site. Vicky, from our maintenance team, and Chloe, from our hospitality team, along with their mentor, Paul Lawrence, look after the bees. The Dockyard team is supported by Medway Beekeepers Association.
Vicky said: “We all love working with the bees as they are so interesting to watch and such clever little animals. It’s nice to be with them as it a social afternoon as well as doing a job, and also a bit of a competition to see who finds the most queens.”
Some more interesting facts about bees:
- Male bees only live for around 40 days. In summer, females live for 6 weeks but in winter females live for 6 months. All of the work around the hive is done by the female bees.
- The hive is made up of 1 queen, 1,000-2,000 male bees in summer (none in winter,) 10,000 female bees in winter and 60,000 female bees in summer.
With thanks to Vicky Hazlehurst for writing this blog.