According to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), winter losses of honey bee colonies in England over the last six years have ranged from about 1 in 8 to 1 in 3 annually. Jayson, Environmental Officer at the Student’s Union, is studying a hive of black native honey bees placed just below Headington Hill Hall as part of his undergraduate dissertation. Hive society, he explains, encompasses everything from architecture to politics to sociology.
Jayson plans to make improvements to hive design, while raising awareness of the ideal locations for bee survival. “We should be moving beehives into cities. Bees like shelter and south-facing areas, cities are warmer and with a few changes to architectural design, you can install gardens. The urban environment should be better as it’s a more diverse environment for bees.”
He is using a Warré hive, a more sustainable and natural method of beekeeping than the ‘traditional’ approach. Traditional hives are mainly intended for honey production with less emphasis on bee health, whereas natural hives like Warrés create harmony with nature. The hives mean bees have more food over winter and therefore colonies survive stronger, with more resistance to mites and disease. In traditional commercial hives, honey is replaced by sugar syrup.
With help from Dr Louise Hughes, a bio-imaging microscopist from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Jayson will also study honey, wax and pollen sent from beekeepers around the world to measure the quality of products from different types of hives.
The intensification of agriculture has underpinned human development, but only thanks to pollination from insects such as bees. The growth in demand for food means bees are more important than ever before to provide the fruit and vegetables bought in supermarkets that we take for granted.
“All human civilisation, human development, sociology and anthropology comes from bees!” explains Jayson. “In America, traditional hives can recover 50lbs of honey over a couple of weeks and it’s big business shipping hives across the country to pollinate orchards. But are bees over-exploited? If bee colonies completely collapse, all pollination would have to be done by hand. And that is economically unviable.”
In June, the British Bee Keepers Association (BBKA) reported honey bee colony losses over winter were the worst since their annual survival survey began. A third of all colonies were lost in 2012/2013 – more than double the records of the previous year.
Jayson is calling for less exploitation of bees, and is looking at creating a long-term future for them by setting up more city sites. “Such a little thing sitting in a garden in Oxford can have massive ramifications,” he concludes.