The UK’s bee population is in trouble, having nearly halved over the last 25 years. Bee the Change, a social enterprise based in Bristol, is working to tackle the decline with a combination mentoring and educational courses for all ages
The Good Business column catches up with people who are leading social change. It is created in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington, a co-working and business incubation space in London for socially minded entrepreneurs.
Positive News: Hi Heather, can you tell us about Bee The Change?
Heather Moore: Bee the Change is a social enterprise based in Bristol whose aim is to tackle the current pollination crisis by reshaping what we think of as ‘beekeeping’. We are setting up communally-run beehives around the city in order to connect people with nature by teaching them how to live sustainably. We also work to increase the forage and habitat for wild pollinators by increasing edible food in public spaces. Alongside these activities, we host talks and workshops as well as running school lessons, setting up bee hotels and managing the adoption of beehives.
Why did you set up Bee The Change? Was it something you always wanted to do? What’s your professional background?
I’ve never really been able to think of anything more important in life then protecting the natural world. For this reason, I went off to Brighton to study biology at the University of Sussex in order to try to figure out how our planet worked and the best way to protect it. While in my second year, I literally stumbled across a bunch of beehives. It turned out that our university had just hired the only professor of beekeeping in the whole country! From that time onwards, I spent my time researching honeybees. Once graduated, I went off to Bristol to pursue a career in wildlife documentary-making. My experience, however, showed me that this kind of career lacked integrity.
“I believe that sustainable beekeeping is the key to reversing the pollinator decline.”
What could happen if we don’t act to save the bees?
Life would be pretty grim without bees. Of the 100 crops which feed 90 percent of the world, bees pollinate 70 percent of them. For example, our supermarkets would have half of the food they currently have. There would also be a lot of businesses going bankrupt, such as small and large scale beekeepers or companies that use beeswax and honey in cosmetics.
You’ve been recently awarded funding by the Winston Churchill Trust to explore and research beekeeping techniques. Do you know which techniques you’ll be investigating?
There are two arms of the bee crisis – the decline in vitality of ‘wild’ bees (solitary bees, bumblebees and ‘wild’ honeybees) and the decline of managed honeybee colonies. Both bees suffer the same environmental conditions: insecticides, lack of flowers and pests. Conventional beekeeping today reflects the notion that nature needs to be controlled. Conversely, more bee-centric beekeepers allow bees to exist and function as nature intended. I believe that sustainable beekeeping is the key to reversing the pollinator decline. I am therefore off to Europe to carry out a two-month research trip to collect as much information as possible about the best ways to keep bees. Hopefully I can then encourage more research to be done into it.
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You also provide workshops for schools. How have the kids been reacting so far?
The kids have absolutely loved it! We have done beeswax modelling, honey harvesting by hand, bee hotel making and beehive painting. We also got them into bee suits and up to the hive to peek inside. Some of the school children blew me away with how much they knew about why the bees were dying. However, in general the message is not travelling as strongly as it should.
How important is to educate people about the risk that bees face?
Their decline mirrors our very own wellbeing decline. Current farming systems are not only poisoning bees, they are poisoning us, too. I don’t think the general public realises just how bad the situation is. Food is now grown to such a scale that crops can no longer be pollinated naturally.