Bungay Beehive Day – Reflections and Celebrations

Bungay Beehive Day was a collaborative effort involving much preparation and hard work by Bungay Community Bees’ Outreach group over the past nine months. With hundreds of people turning up on the day to talk to beekeepers, look at different types of hives, visit the many stalls, or take part in the varied talks, walks, children’s activities and competitions, the festival marquee was truly abuzz on Castle Meadow. All that diligent preparation had truly paid off. And once again warm thanks to everyone who helped to make this event the success it was both before and on the day.

Here are the organisers on their experience of the event:

Gemma (Event Manager, Outreach)
The Bungay Bee Hive Day is the first event of its kind and we wanted it to be both an enjoyable and informative day that would appeal to all ages. I think this was achieved perfectly with the hard work of everyone and I hope all visitors found something of interest.

It was good to meet visitors who had come all the way from Ipswich, Swaffham and also Norwich, as well as some from Sweden who happened to be in the area on Sunday.

The bee day attracted a mix of experienced beekeepers and people just interested to find out more about bees, beekeeping and pollinators. By the end of the day I had a sore throat from talking to so many people, all seemed genuinely interested in finding out what was going on.

As I was managing the event and taking care of the practical logistics, I wasn’t directly involved in any of the activities happening during the day. But this did mean I was able to observe the coming and goings. One of the most noticeable things was the positivity inside the marquee. A lot of the parents commented that they were pleased that there was a children’s craft corner as it meant they could stay longer without feeling guilty that the kid’s weren’t being entertained.

One of the most popular attractions was the observation hive brought along by Waveney Beekeepers where Bob, a very experienced beekeeper, was also able to answer the more unusual and obscure bee questions.

The bee and flower walk caused a mass exodus from the marquee at midday when Mark led a group like the pied piper round Bungay.

The talks happened in a nice space set back within the main marquee. Stallholders were disappointed that they were too tied up with customers to go and listen to the animated speakers.

People had the opportunity to get creative by working with Kathryn from River of Flowers to make a bug hotel to take home. If you wanted to part with your money there were lovely stalls selling bee themed gifts, food and plants, all of which had really good feedback at the end of the day about how they had enjoyed the atmosphere.

There were lots of information stalls – the most spectacular was what looked like a garden on a trestle table created by Philip to show the ideal Bumble Bee Garden, complete with knitted bees.

Those present were not only humans and bees, lots of dogs came along and one even listened to the first talk!

Elinor (Beekeeper, Education and Outreach)
Bungay Beehive Day was a great success for bees, plants and Sustainable Bungay. I met some really interesting people, some of whom are members of Bungay Community Bees but have been unable to come to any previous meetings. It’s always good to put faces to names (and e-mails)!

The atmosphere was relaxed but busy, I loved the way the marquee almost emptied whenever a talk was on as it showed that people were interested in joining in, not just in a quick browse. Having said that, it emptied almost too much when Mark took everyone out on a bee and flower walk; but it did give us a chance to refuel with a cup of coffee.

My children were kept occupied with various craft activities, face (and hand) painting (although they did choose batman and vampire designs instead of bees or flowers…) and candle rolling. One other big draw for lots of children was the Iceni Microscopy table where they looked down microscopes at bees and butterflies, with specific tasks to do such as counting leg segments. I get really excited at the thought of children finding ‘science’ fun.

Bob and Sally Spruce were kind enough to bring an observation hive along, the next best thing to being able to open a hive to see bees at work. I think they were kept pretty busy all day answering various queries. What excellent ambassadors for honey bees they are, several people with big smiles on their faces commented to me on how fascinating Bob and his bees were.

My biggest problem was not being able to do everything at once – help children spot the Queen bee in some photo’s, listen to the talks, chat about top bar hives (lots of interest), make a bug hotel, chase after my daughter as she (continually) legged it down the path looking like a fencing style veil with legs…

However, I did get to experience all of those things and many more. Best of all I enjoyed chatting to people, getting a taste of their views on honey bees and how they are affected by all sorts of issues, what they have done themselves and what they plan to do. It’s how ideas develop. So, roll on next year…..

Mark (Plants for Bees, Outreach)
One question facing the organisers of any event that’s taken time and effort to put on is the terrible ‘WHAT IF NO ONE COMES? It was the same with Bungay Beehive Day. I found myself (quite sincerely, in fact) saying to fellow organisers, “Well, it’s doing it that matters. Let’s enjoy it whatever the turnout.”

So when hundreds of people visited throughout the Bungay Beehive Day, it was an added delight to the fact of our having pulled the event off at all.

I led a Bee and Flower walk at midday through various meadows, ‘wastegrounds’, gardens and verges in Bungay ending up at the Library Community Garden. Just before twelve Philip Evans clapped his hands and I announced the walk. I then stood in the marquee for several minutes with five people and thought, okay, well perhaps I expected ten or fifteen, but fine, it’ll be intimate and I won’t have to talk loudly.”

At noon as we walked out of the tent I looked behind me to see what turned out to be a crowd of over thirty people, all coming to look for bees and flowers in Bungay. It was lovely. Walking and talking and paying attention to what’s growing, flowering and pollinating around us – from spear thistles (beloved of bees) to common mallow and even to the much-maligned common ragwort.

I spoke about a shift in attitude from having ‘control over everything’ to being in relationship and reciprocity with the plants and animals we share the earth with – and with each other. I really appreciated Paul taking photos and talking about the value of ivy flowers to bees and how the sticky honeydew from aphids that falls from lime trees does not damage car paintwork. You just wipe it off before it goes mouldy.

The weather was fine and sunny for the walk, and I was thrilled to introduce people to the Library Community Garden, blooming away with poppies, fennel, corn marigold, feverfew, native vervains, cultivated verbenas and anise hyssop – and being visited by bumblebees aplenty. I ran ahead to warn Angharad that a crowd of thirty people was about to enter the library garden. Plant lover that she is, she was only bothered because she was working and couldn’t get to Beehive Day.

Back at the festival marquee Philip and Charlotte were busy moving chairs outside for Philip’s Bumblebee and wildflower talk. Twenty five people came to hear it.
“That man over there knows too much”, he said gesturing towards me. “So he’s banned from answering any more questions.”
“Did I steal your thunder, Philip?” I joked.
“Yes”, he laughed.

It was a great talk, I held my tongue and I learnt something I didn’t know, which is that when you see bumblebees inert on flowers as if they are sleeping, it’s because they are cold (being cold-blooded). If you put a little honey in your hand and breathe over it gently onto the bumblebee it warms up and revives. I actually tried it this week and it’s absolutely true.

I also gave a talk on The Healing Power of Honey, from its use in old civilisations such as Egypt (antiseptic and wound dressing), up to modern day society (still used for wound dressings in UK hospitals). I also included propolis and beeswax and passed around a Yarrow and salve I made earlier in the year with beeswax, very good for cuts – and piles!

It was a beautiful and rewarding day. Margi from The Natural Beekeeping Trust wrote to say she was struck by just how inclusive, diverse and holistic the event was with so many different ways to keep bees (and different hives to keep them in) represented.

Charlotte (Plants for Bees, Press, Publicity and Talks, Outreach)
Like everyone else I was up at dawn collecting the thirty plus flowers (mostly wild) from the hedgerows that would sit in honey jars on the Plants for Bees stall all day. Each jar held a selection of plants from different habitats (heathland, garden, road verges), or subjects (Love Weeds). The stall was next to our board of flower photographs and descriptions of the honeybee year, key issues they face such as the June gap and modern agricultural practices, and how we can help them – not just by growing bee-friendly plants in our gardens but becoming aware of the crucial relationships between wild flowers and pollinators of all kinds.

As the organiser for the four talks that day (On Bee Guardians, Creating Urban Wildflower Meadows, The Healing Power of Honey, Bumblebees) I was thrilled that there were good audiences for all of them. Margie Robbins opened the day by describing the bio-dynamic approaches to beekeeping, following principles described by the philosopher Rudolph Steiner. In his 1923 lectures on modern beekeeping Steiner predicted the present honeybee crisis caused by over-production and interferences with the bees’ natural cycles. What became clear in all of these communications is that the fate of the honeybee is linked with our own:

” . . . though it was a first-of-its kind event Bungay Beehive Day attracted the attention of people from all over East Anglia. Because, no matter how dark and difficult the times, there is something the honeybee colony has that brings people together in a certain spirit. And it is this spirit that Steiner referred to when he said that, in spite of the crisis, the evolution of people would follow along the lines of the honeybee.

It’s not personal, said Margie from the Natural Beekeeping Trust as she described the way bees work with each other and the world. The Trust promotes a move away from commercial beekeeping practices towards a harmonious relationship with the bees and a respect for nature. And though there was respect for the scientific method the talks we gave that day were about something else.

People say they have done Transition for years, they don’t need to be part of a Transition group, or they try and hide the Transition word at all costs from their friends and community and pretend it is something else, something less challenging, less well . . . evolutionary. But the fact remains it is evolutionary. Not in the way Steiner or a scientist might describe evolution, but because it is effecting something people have not done collectively before, which is to live in harmony in nature and with each other, having spent millennia living against nature and against each other.” from The Spirit of the Beehive – full article here.

Eloise (Education, Outreach and Plants for Bees)
A great day enjoyed by all, even though the night before was a late one for me getting everything ready!

Seeing how much the children enjoyed making the bee masks, puppets and pictures made up for any tiredness. And it wasn’t just the kids, one mum who was really enjoying making a mask said it was the most fun she’d had in ages! “Everyone is together all under one roof – that’s what makes it special”, one mum said.

It made me think about positive action and how beneficial it is to act upon something which is outside yourself and your own world. In this case to become immersed in the world of pollinators and of our wild landscapes and their importance to the whole system.

To engage with people in a variety of ways in order to tickle their imagination, to raise the consciousness and to then find yourself open to recieving all the beauty and wonder that is around us everywhere.

Observing being, I feel the first step is like standing at a view point on the ridge of a mountain, taking in some breathtaking scene. The journey then becomes your own. You can climb down with this amazing memory in your mind, or you can choose to understand more about what you are seeing, to understand your relationship to it, it’s relationship to the rest of the world.

Photos courtesy of Adele Goodchild, Charlotte Du Cann, Keith Parker, Muhammad Amin, Mark Watson and Paul Jackson