There are 208 apiaries within a 6 mile radius of my hives, according to the UK’s NBU’s database, Beebase. That’s roughly 10 hives for each square mile. It’s a lot of hives for a urban/suburban environment.
The figure is certainly wrong because many beekeepers never bother registering their apiaries, even though the register helps government bee inspectors manage bee diseases. As a result there are many hives out there that are not on the database … and many apiaries on the database that no longer exist.
Around 1 in 5 apiaries ‘disappear’ each year and it’s nothing to do with climate change, bee diseases, pesticides, urban sprawl, air pollution or even Brexit – it’s simply that wannabe beekeepers give up!
Beekeeping is not cheap. Enthusiasts that want to keep a hive in the garden soon realise that one hive is not enough. Sooner or later you will have to manage swarming and re-queening, and you can’t do that with one hive; the minimum is realistically three.
That means more kit, more expense … and more bees! Which means more potential trouble.
Neighbours who were initially enthusiastic about your attempts to ‘save the planet’ soon resent having to run indoors to escape your angry bees.
Quite rightly, too. Bee stings are painful and some people have life-threatening adverse reactions. Pets are not immune either – every year there are reports of dogs being badly stung.
The response of the novice beekeeper is predictable – to minimise annoyance they make fewer hive inspections. Swarming results and the colony gets weaker and more disease prone. Honey yields are pathetic. Enthusiasm wanes.
The best strategy would be to find a more suitable site for an apiary, but that’s not easy in crowded suburbia. So instead the hives are abandoned. The beekeeper stops actively managing their colonies and honing their skills, and instead justifies inaction as ‘natural beekeeping’ or ‘letting the bees do their thing’.
So swarms plague the neighbourhood. At best other more active beekeepers re-home them before they settle into someone’s attic or chimney, at worst they are destroyed by pest controllers.
So much for saving the bees!