A VALLEYS community is set to become a hub for honey-making, thanks largely to the contribution of one man and his passion for honey bees. CAIO IWAN reports.
IN A QUIET plot of land near a Valleys village, a Gwent man is aiming to do his bit against one of the most worrying world-wide trends: the decline of the honey bee.
And he is aiming to make the area - once the preserve of pits and heavy industry - a centre for honey production.
Lorne East is the founder of the Sirhowy Valley Honeybee Company (SVHC), based in the village of Wyllie near Blackwood, which has been awarded nearly £60,000 from the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme towards equipment and running costs.
It is an initiative set up to help save the local bee population and food crops, because, as Mr East will explain in due course, it is vitally important that we do.
The money will allow the social enterprise to supply bees to allotments to help pollinate vegetable plants and flowers, as well as offering tailored school workshops in the area.
SEWCED – which is funded through the Welsh Government and run by six local authorities including Caerphilly county borough, Blaenau Gwent, and Torfaen – has invested more than £7 million in 100 social enterprises since 2010, helping create 90 jobs.
Lorne East, an experienced bee-keeper, says the future of the honey bee is crucial to food crops around the world.
Honey bees – wild and domestic – perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world's nutrition, are pollinated by bees.
Scientists know that bees are dying from a variety of factors including pesticides, drought, habitat destruction, nutrition deficit, air pollution, global heating.
Conservationists argue the two biggest causes are the use of pesticides and habitat loss,
Mr East said: “Honeybees are in crisis worldwide. Disease and climate change are decimating the numbers and impacting on the health of bee colonies.
“The knock-on effect of this decline is that our plants - most especially food crops - are not being pollinated as well as we might like them to be, and there is a real threat to our capacity to produce food.”
In the UK alone, the value of the bee as a crops pollinator is believed to be worth around £430 million. If crops had to be pollinated by hand, it is thought it would cost around £1.8 billion per year.
Mr East added: "If you add to this the health and welfare benefits of consuming pure locally-produced ‘super food’ honey - as opposed to the blended varieties sold in large supermarkets – it’s easy to see why bee-keeping and honey production has the capacity to significantly improve our local and national economy now and in the future.”
Mr East, from the village of Wyllie near Blackwood, has been putting his bees on local gardeners’ allotments to help pollinate vegetable plants and flowers. He said SVHC hopes to have 100 fully-productive honey bee colonies in the Sirhowy Valley within the next five years.
But here, Mr East explains the process behind the creation of a wonderfully crafted source of food...
Honey bees live together in big groups called colonies. Today, most colonies live in bee hives which are built by humans and there can be more than 50,000 bees living in one hive, inside which are lots of wooden frames.
A honey bee can visit up to 5,000 flowers a day but all the nectar it collects throughout its life is only enough to make a teaspoon of honey.
The bees build a wax honeycomb in each wooden frame and this is where they store their honey.
Bees collect nectar and process this through its glands and then store it in the wax cells. This honey contains a large amount of water.
By using their wings as a form of wind fan, the bees evaporate the water content and as soon as it reaches 18 per cent, they will cap it over with wax. It is then kept as their food, and stored for the winter, or alternatively, it can be used for our satisfaction and kept in jars as honey.
Beekeepers remove the frame of capped honey and extract the honey with the use of a radial extractor. The honey is then filtered, processed, jarred and labelled.
There are many different types, colours and flavours of honey, depending upon its nectar source. They are apple blossom honey which is thick and yellow; borage honey which is pale and runny. But the majority of SVHC honey should consist of apple blossom and blackberries, which according to Mr East makes a “beautiful luxury honey”.