Andy Pedley is an Apiary Manager for the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association and a retired Environmental Health Officer. I talked to him about his experience beekeeping, our increasing reliance on bees, and his advice for those interested in keeping bees.

Can I ask you about your own experience? 

Andy: I started beekeeping 30 years ago in London, when I joined the local association and got to know some beekeepers. One of them sold me a hive and that’s where I got started. I eventually became secretary, then chairman. I moved to Oxfordshire a few years ago, and joined this apiary. One of the nice things about beekeeping is that it’s quite a niche interest, so once you join an association, you meet people that you have something in common with. I felt it was a lovely thing to get involved with something in the local area.

Do you have a favourite type of bee? 

A: I’m obviously a big fan of the honeybee. But there are other species that are amazing. I suppose if I were to have a favourite, it would be the buff-tailed bumblebee- they’re the big ones with white tails you see in spring. They just sort of bumble around and are a charm. You can’t keep bumblebees but you can admire them.

Is it correct that there is a bit of a misconception surrounding the endangerment of honeybees?

A: Yes, that’s right. Because of beekeepers, honeybees are very well-cared for. However, honeybees compete with the other bees for food, so by keeping them, we’re making it more difficult for other bees. We’re beginning to rely on a single species for pollination. If the other bees go extinct and something wipes out honeybees, suddenly we haven’t got any means of pollination. 

So what can we do to help the bees that are endangered?

A: A bug hotel helps mason bees, leaf-cutter bees and other solitary bee species. These get occupied very quickly, I’ve got several myself at home. Planting wildflowers is also great. Some bees live in burrows, so creating a little space with a sandy bank can help solitary bees. You can also donate to charities dedicated to helping endangered bees, like The Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Some vegans choose not to eat honey because they have a moral issue with it. Do you think there’s any base in this?

A: I know where they’re coming from, we’re definitely exploiting the bees. We put them into artificial homes, manipulate them, and interfere with their natural lifestyle. We also inevitably kill some when working with them. On the other hand, we provide them with a home to live in, we support them during the winter, and we medicate them. Beekeepers don’t just take things away from bees, we give things too. 

What advice would you give to people interested in beekeeping but who don’t know where to start?

A: I’d advise them to get on a beekeeping course. It’s much more complicated than people realise, and it lets you decide whether you really want to keep bees. This is a great opportunity to find out what it’s all about and get stuck in!