Bungay Community Bees, in East Anglia, is a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme where members own shares in the harvest and take part in the beekeeping year. Claimed to be the first purely bee CSA in England to date, the project is aiming to ‘preserve pollinators’ by increasing the numbers of bees and beekeepers locally and promoting more sustainable ways to farm for honey.
Membership of the scheme is £20 per year and benefits include: visits to the hives to learn more about beekeeping; an opportunity to have a hive in your garden; regular email updates; a chance to attend a beekeeping course paid for by Bungay Community Bees; and an invite to the end of season honey harvest and party.
“We are not a commercial venture. Honey production is viewed as a bonus rather than a prime motive for beekeeping,” says beekeeper Elinor McDowall. “We aim to use two or three systems over the next few years until we find one that suits us and the bees best. The share of honey and wax will increase as the hives grow in strength and number.”
How do you set up a Transition Bee Project? First step: have a plan. In its first year, Bungay Community Bees aimed to recruit around 20 supporters. They also wanted to invest in two hives, two bee colonies, give training to two beekeepers, provide them with insurance and supply some basic equipment.
Second step: allow the idea to catch people’s imagination. Elinor says: “Getting coverage in the local press helped hugely at the beginning to raise awareness. Having started a bee blog, to talk about all the different visits and what was going on in the hives, attracted people to ring and write from all over the world.”
Third step: let it go where it wants to go. The group membership has now grown to 37, and produced enough funds to train another two new beekeepers. A pair of extra hives and two swarms were donated, as well as offers from gardens in and around the town to place them.
Fourth step: keep busy! Each time the hives are opened, the group is invited to come along. This includes children, who can participate in activities such as making frames for the hives.
Meanwhile, a sub-group has recently formed within Bungay Community Bees, to encourage people to grow bee-friendly plants. They hope to publish a ‘bee calendar’ to advise gardeners to select the plants that bloom when bees need food the most, or when pollen is very scarce, or autumn flowering varieties that help them build a winter store.