In May 2020, we welcomed the addition of Heathrow Airport’s honeybee colonies to our team. The care of these industrious creatures came under our contract with the airport, and so our on-site team got suited and booted to learn all there was about looking after them.
For several years, since the client began their beekeeping venture, we’ve been involved in the positioning and quantities of hives across Heathrow biodiversity sites. With the care of the hives now under our watchful eye, we’re able to balance the management of these sites with the best available husbandry.
The European or Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) is one of around 250 species of bee in the UK and has been the focal species in domestic beekeeping for hundreds of years. In addition to producing honey, the primary reason for their domestication, honeybees are by their nature excellent pollinators. By visiting numerous flowers in a single flight to collect pollen and nectar, pollen transfer is inevitable and so fertilisation is a natural biproduct of their existence. When kept in modest numbers alongside native, wild pollinators, honeybees can aid in the fertilisation of a large variety of flora, for considerable radius. The range of a bee’s harvest flight can be miles, so placing a hive strategically can boost more than just one plot of land.
Given the nature of our work, in-keeping with ecological and environmental considerations, we aim to work closely with nature in managing these busy creatures. Whilst a token harvest of honey may be available from hives each year, this is not a primary outcome of their management. In association with London-based company Urban Beekeeping, we have been ensuring the welfare of these animals with focus on using natural and non-intense methods. Particularly regarding the use of chemicals, we aim to ensure as minimal use of harsh treatments as possible; a balance of health monitoring and preventative natural products will aid in reducing any need.
Our Biodiversity Conservation Officers, Charlie and Emma, have had many successes with the clients’ colonies, from introducing high-quality, low-chemical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods, to recieving high-praising reviews from the Regional Inspector from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on the welfare and health of the hives under out management. The colonies benefit greatly from the nearby pollen-rich habitats, some of which we manage on behalf of clients, and impress us with the quantity of honey produced. The plentiful stores of naturally-produced food serves as a fantastic indicator for the strength of the colony and places them in a vital position to withstand any winter hardships.
We are pleased to be able to use the honeybees as a useful gateway species to open discussions on pollination, and biodiversity in general, with many of our client staff. Whilst able to deliver demonstrations and show ‘dummy’ hives, we can demonstrate the importance of protecting and enhancing the habitats they require, and discuss a variety of ways in which people can help; as both individuals or part of a larger team or company.
Our experience in this venture will be an ever-changing journey as we continue to learn from our peers and valuable industry research. Practically, we carry out all aspects of maintenance on these hives from routine inspections and cleaning to honey harvesting. We are proud to work alongside a charity local to the client called Green Corridor, a specialist learning development centre, who host and assist in the management of a beehive.