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Is the answer to saving the honey bee rewilding?

Deborah Richmond, from the Pure Portugal team, shares why she came to Portugal. To set up a bee sanctuary an regenerate 12 hectares of land through reforestation, land regeneration and water retention strategies.

A passion for the honey bee, this article was written for Pure Portugal by one of people behind the project, Angharad Barlow. For more information about what we are up to visit 

Is the answer to saving the Honey Bee re-wilding? 

I believe it’s entirely possible. To me, it seems common sense that in order for Apis Melifera to become healthy and abundant again we need to let nature do what nature intended. During 2015-16 US Bee keepers lost 40% of their populations, 150 European Bee species are in decline and the UK lost 15% of it’s bees last winter. This is before we even start to address the huge decline in other pollinator insects, some which have even become extinct this in 2016.

Bees naturally choose hollow tree cavities high off the ground as a home. This provides a safe environment in which to build their own comb. It is away from predators and at an optimum height for regulating humidity and moisture content. There are also some studies indicating the further benefits provided by this environment surrounding beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Recent agriculture practices, technology and beekeeping techniques have seen a rapid decline in the bees health and colony collapse as well as an explosion of diseases and infestations. The fact is, we have interfered with bees to the level that they are no longer able to manage these problem by themselves due to weaken immunity compromised nervous systems.

Our aim is to explore a solution to this problem by re-wilding the Honey Bee. Our aim is to create an environment as close to nature as possible, giving the bees a chance to behave in a natural and instinctual way. We humans will be acting as bee guardians not bee keepers. Through unobtrusive observation we can watch, learn and hopefully go someway to building a healthier and more resilient bee stock.

We will be working with a variety of techniques such traditional log hives, cork hives, tree hives (possibly a sun hive or skep, warre, for learning from) where the bees are free to build their own comb and live as nature intended. We will be observing which hives produce the healthiest colonies and encourage swarming by placing swarm boxes in trees etc. Research shows that a log hive or similar environment not only allows the bees to build, but provides a more constant state, regarding temperature, moisture and bacteria, compared to the contemporary commercial ground based framed and boxed hives.

We will not be regularly entering the hives, treating or harvesting. We will watch and learn. This means looking at this project in the long term and monitoring the bee population as it rises, falls and thrives. It also means resisting the urge to interfere and ‘help’,a huge challenge for the most passionate beekeeper.

The idea is that we will create a landscape and environment rich in biodiversity and sustainability to foster the ultimate scenario in which the bees and other pollinators can maximise their productivity, re-production and regeneration.This involves a full and varied diet/forage of native and indigenous plants across 30 acres of varied meadow and forest landscape.

Our hope is that this project can serve as a springboard for others. Help create a European and global network of natural beekeeping and guardianship, and a project that can develop into a space for learning and education.

Through this process of re-wilding the honey bee, we are also re-wilding ourselves. With much thanks to Portugal for this opportunity.


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