These bees now make a big contribution to the local urban biodiversity and pollinate plants within a three-mile radius in Bloomsbury.
The apiary is located on the roof of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) with rooftop views looking towards Senate House and Russell Square, a large garden square.
Camilla is director of Capital Bee which she set up as an ethical business to respond to the shortage of honey bee colonies in Britain.
Since 2014 the University of London has been running courses to staff interested in learning the hands-on practical aspects of beekeeping. We spoke with the course organiser, Cat Acheson, about sustainability plans and to hear how the bees have progressed since the apiary was established.
Why was the roof of IALS picked as a location for the beehives?
The roof of IALS is perfect for central London bees. It’s south-facing, meaning it gets a lot of sun, and it looks over Russell Square which is packed with trees, shrubs and plants that provide fantastic forage for the bees. It’s also easy for people to access the roof of IALS, meaning that the bees are easy to care for, and we can bring visitors up to see the hives and learn about beekeeping.
How has the bee apiary progressed since the initial two beehives were installed in 2013?
We started with two beehives, but went up to three in 2017 and then four in 2019. Since the apiary was installed, we’ve trained at least 10 staff in beekeeping every year. So far we’ve trained 48 beekeepers! We’re going to continue running this programme each year, and selling the honey to staff and visitors.
You have been involved in the beekeeping training for UoL, tell me more about this?
The training is delivered by Camilla, a freelance professional beekeeper who looks after our bees. She usually delivers three or four workshops, introducing staff to the basics of establishing bee hives, caring for bee colonies and extracting honey.
It’s a great way to learn more about these amazing creatures, and gain some hands-on experience visiting our own beehives. Camilla usually brings loads of different varieties of honey for everyone to sample as well, as there’s a lot of variation in flavours of honey depending on where the bees live and what kind of plants they feed on.
Tell me a bit about when the honey is extracted and what products are made from the hives?
The main product is honey but we have also extracted the wax, which participants in our beekeeping course have used to make candles. A former member of staff even used the wax to make his own moustache wax! Honey is usually extracted during mid-summer, leaving the bees enough time to replenish their stocks before winter. The honey is extracted using a spinning barrel that pushes the honey to the edges of the hive.
Why are bees so important to food production?
Bees are a crucial pollinator for the crops we all rely on. Without bees it would take huge efforts to artificially pollinate plants, so decline in bee populations is a really big concern. Bees are also an essential part of the wider ecosystem, and through their pollinating and feeding activity they help natural habits and species throughout the food chain to flourish.
France is enjoying a big boom in honey production for the first time in years due to the warm spring sunshine and a two-month lockdown related to COVID-19, which has reduced pollution. What is the state of the honey bee population in the UK?
What kills bees off over the winter is when it’s long and drawn out, so early spring sunshine really helps bee colonies by allowing more bees to survive. They can then do more foraging early on to make themselves strong. We’re not as sunny as France, but fortunately last year was warm and the ground didn’t dry out, so it was one of the best years for honey.
What are the future sustainability goals for the University of London?
This is an exciting time for sustainability, and we have lots of ambitious projects underway. We are working to bring the University to net zero carbon emissions by 2036. We’re redeveloping the Bloomsbury Heat and Power Network to find low-carbon solutions for heating our buildings, and we’re working with local partners on the Wild Bloomsbury project to boost and expand green spaces in the area (including potential roof gardens!).
This year we’re also going to relaunch our staff champions network to increase engagement and impact, and we will continue to deliver our student engagement projects to encourage sustainable behaviour change. Our new Sustainability Report will be out soon, so definitely check it out if you want to find out more about our projects, and the exciting progress we’ve made so far in making University of London more sustainable.