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Sustain / Food Facts / The plight of the honey bee

What to do to help the bees

Honey jarsBuy local honey

Buying local honey means supporting your local bee keepers and enjoying a unique and deliciously flavoured product. Local honeys may be less likely to have been heat-treated or filtered, like commercially manufactured honey, meaning that some of honey’s purported health-giving properties may remain intact. Buying local honey also reduces food miles, and can be purchased at farm shops  and farmers’ markets  across the country. Details of honey suppliers are also available in the London and south east region on the Local Food Finder  and on the London Bee Keepers Association website.  If you cannot find any honey local to you, then try organic and Fairtrade products.

Have a bee-friendly garden

Honey bee and plantGardens are an important environment for honey bees to forage in, particularly in an urban environment. If you have a garden then you can attract honey bees by planting native plants such as honeysuckle, wild roses, lavender, foxgloves, hollyhocks, clematis and hydrangeas. Planting fruit, vegetables and herbs also attracts foraging honey bees looking for a food source. Even if you don’t have a garden, some bee-friendly plants, such as herbs will grow happily in window boxes.

For a wide range of reasons – including the health of bees and other wildlife – organic gardens are preferable. Plenty of help and advice is available, including from charities like Garden Organic.


Organic Fairtrade HoneyBuy bee-friendly food, like organic

Organic farming will only continue to grow in the UK if people continue to buy more organic food. Organic farmland creates a healthy environment for honey bees, thus improving their health and the quality of the food crops that they pollinate. Try to buy organic produce where possible, especially if it is produced locally or in the UK.

Join a campaign!

There are lots of organisations campaigning to protect bees. Here are links to just a few:

Become a bee keeper

At the moment we only produce around 15% of the honey that we consume here in the UK and it is estimated that we would need around 2.5 million hives in the UK to meet our current demand; an increase of over 2 million hives compared to the number now.

While this sounds a dauntingly high number, inputs such as equipment, time and space are low in relation to the rewards that can be reaped. Hives are equally suited to both rural and urban environments, and in fact honey bees flourish in an urban environment as they can forage on a wide mixture of plants from gardens and parks. The London Bee Keepers Association claims that this gives urban honey a unique flavour as the diet of the bees is so varied.

There is also scope for a range of community projects and small businesses to be established to produce local honey, contributing to both food security and stronger local economies. Going on a bee keeping course to learn the basics about keeping a healthy hive is recommended, and the British Bee Keepers Association can provide more information (see below).

Hackney honey potsHackney's honeypots on high

In his Channel 4 series River Cottage Spring, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall visited the rooftop of a Victorian terrace house in Hackney, to see eight beehives kept by teenager Philip Schilds and his father.

These city bees produce one hundred pounds of honey from each hive every harvest time - so with eight beehives, Philip Schilds bees make 2,000 jars per year. In the programme, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall estimated that it costs £250 per hive to set up in bee-keeping, and said that "Urban bees make good honey, and lots of it".

A new, contemporary beehive for the urban beekeeper (launched in August 2009 by Omlet with support from Natural England), will make it easy for anyone - from amateurs to seasoned apiarists - to help bees find a home in urban gardens up and down the country.

Create a bee hotel

If you don't feel brave enough to become a bee keeper, then find a place in your garden to install a bee nest. Get advice on bee nests from the inset charity Buglife, or download a DIY Bee Hotel Factsheet.

Food Facts: A series of short reports on over a dozen different products, shows how people's shopping choices - as well as government policy - can protect the environment, enhance social justice and improve health.

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