The sight of a bee hovering between flowers is familiar to many during the summer. However, bee populations in the UK are in alarming decline. One customer initiative in Stoke Newington is trying to redress this through a community project that produces the “champagne of honeys”.
Sponsored by Southern Housing Group, the George Downing Save the Bees project was launched in 2013 to encourage local bee populations. Residents of George Downing Estate in Hackney work in partnership with London-based hive rental company Barnes & Webb to maintain two hives located on the estate that produce roughly 120 jars of honey a year. Last year, half of these were given to local residents and sold to support the project.
Bringing residents together
Barnes & Webb install and maintain the hives they rent out throughout London, checking them once a week during spring and summer to make sure the bees are healthy. They then harvest the ‘London postcode honey’ for their customers.
Residents of George Downing Estate take part in regular hive inspections and other events where they learn first-hand about maintaining a hive and harvesting honey.
For project manager Jahel Guerra, the hives are a valuable way to bring the community together and educate residents about the importance of bees in food production and the environment.
“Urban beekeeping gives us a unique way to connect with nature and help support our food chain and eco system. The honey, which is raw and unpasteurised, also helps prevent hay fever and allergies.”
The project was founded with support from Activate London, part of the Big Lottery Fund, and environmental charity EcoActive have donated bee-friendly wildflower seeds for local residents to plant in their gardens.
The champagne of honeys
Each hive houses roughly 50,000 bees, dropping to around 10,000 in winter. The bees are a non-aggressive species and on George Downing Estate they are kept in a fenced-in enclosure away from local residents, particularly children.
The honey is harvested once a year in September and honey from each hive varies significantly in taste and texture according to plants that grow locally.
Jahel said: “It’s really rewarding to be able to give honey to residents who contribute to the project. The honey we produce is delicious – it’s the ‘champagne of honeys’ and is really popular.”
Bees in the city
Chris Barnes from Barnes & Webb, explains: “Honey bee numbers in London are quite healthy compared with the country and the world as a whole. However, many bee species aren't doing so well. Honey bees and the honey they produce are immediately recognised by most people and they help to raise awareness of the plight of all pollinators.”
City environments offer an unexpected benefit to honey bees – there tends to be less pesticides used in cities compared to rural areas, and city parks and gardens host a wide range of different foliage. In addition, modern farming techniques have resulted in a loss of biodiversity in rural areas, meaning less variety of food for bees.
Over the past three years, engagement with the Save the Bees project has grown significantly and volunteers are thinking of ways to expand to other buildings on the estate and involve more people.
Jahel said: “We’d love to sell more jars this year and involve residents with other activities that support bee populations, such as creating ‘urban meadows’ in unused garden areas.”
If you’d like to help save Stoke Newington’s bees and enjoy some honey in return, get in touch with Jahel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07925 749 665.
In February 2015, East London Lines produced a video about the project, which you can watch here, and you can watch a video about the guys from Barnes & Webb here.
For all enquiries, please contact:
Mary Weeks Communications Manager Southern Housing Group 0207 553 6841