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.
We have been fortunate to get our first year of beekeeping off to a successful start with 2 highlights. Shortly after taking on the hives, we were faced with a swarm of honeybees on one of the biodiversity sites. Our 2 on-site staff Adam and Charlie engaged local beekeepers to assist with the capture of the swarm, and seamlessly installed the colony into a fresh hive to settle, which continued to be one of the strongest colonies through the height of the season. Our second major success was the splitting of a colony. Under the guidance of Urban Beekeeping, one became 3 with the careful division of one hive. Whilst inclement weather caused natural delays in the establishment, all colonies once again continued to thrive and go into the winter months with strong reserves.
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.