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Bees make the most of warm summer to deliver boost to honey crop

A Queen bee (centre yellow dot) of the Buckfast variety of bee which have taken up residence at Holyrood after the Scottish Parliament became the first legislature in the UK to have beehives when two were installed earlier this year. Photo: PA Archive/PA Images

Bees have been making honey while the sun shines, with a bigger crop from hives this year due to the good summer, an annual survey reveals.

The bad weather of the Beast from the East that hit the UK in the spring did not harm honeybees, which went on to make the most of the long, warm summer with a honey crop that was up by a third this year.

But beekeepers are urging people to plant flowers to feed pollinators to help boost honey yields, as well as being good for other pollinating insects and the birds that feed on them.

The crop of the sweet stuff was up across England to an average 30.8lb  (14kg) per hive compared to 23.8lb in 2017, the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) annual honey survey reveals.

Wales had exceptional improvements in the honey yield, nearly doubling from last year’s average per hive to 31.4lb due to the good weather.

Calwyn Glastonbury, a beekeeper in the Usk Valley who keeps more than 60 colonies of bees, said: “Spring blossom came and went exceptionally quickly this year, which was a worry at the time, but the long, warm summer more than made up for it and was great for our honeybees.”

A crop of 30lb per hive is considered small compared to yields a few decades ago, the association said, but it pointed to new and encouraging farming practices that could help honeybees and other insects.

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Professor John Hobrough, from the north-east, said: “A local farmer planted Phacelia or purple tansy near my apiary and the results astounded me.

“Phacelia is a plant from North Carolina used as green manure to help improve the soil. It’s one of the top ten nectar producers for honeybees.

“Once it flowered, my honeybees had a fantastic time, with my three strong colonies making over 230lb of honey within the month.

The annual survey asked beekeepers what they thought the public could do to help honeybees and other pollinators.

The top answer was planting more nectar and pollen producing flowers, shrubs or trees.

Stopping using pesticides, reporting sightings of invasive Asian hornets that prey on honeybees,  leaving an area of the garden to grow wild, learning to love dandelions and leaving ivy to grow were also on the list.

Margaret Wilson, chairwoman of the BBKA, said:  “Honeybees and all our wild creatures need food to eat and that can only come from what we plant and grow, so gardening and agricultural practices are incredibly important.”