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The BeeVital Story

James Fearnley is CEO of BeeVital and Nature’s Laboratory. His life began in traditional style with a public-school education followed by a degree in Law from the University of Birmingham. But by the time graduation came in 1967 he was like so many of his generation starting to question the point and purpose of it all. Instead of going on to train as a barrister James chose a masters course in West African Law, Anthropology and Religions. It took him to the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1968 and that is when his life course changed for ever.

James Fearnley, Founder of BeeVital Propolis

The Student Revolution

In 1968 10 million people had been brought out on strike by the students in France. Paris was alive with riot police. London Universities were occupied.  Students marched in their 1000s on the American Embassy in protest against the Vietnam war. In those heady days of new ideas and political activism James joined a socialist libertarian group  and felt that the  time had come for real change . It was at this time his interest began in new approaches to health, education and economics.

Following in the Footsteps of Thoreau

Settling down after 1968 was difficult. James trained as a Reichian therapist and then, unable to get into medical school he started training as a physiotherapist.  Married, with his first child Rose, he pondered on how he could put his new world view into practice.

He was greatly moved by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, specifically “Walden” – “a compelling account by the author, of living alone in a secluded cabin at Walden Pond in America. It is regarded as Thoreau’s great document on social criticism and dissent. “Walden” was the catalyst which propelled James and his young family to move to the Suffolk countryside in 1974.  

From Pigman to Potter

James took the first job that he could find which was working on a pig farm, he grew to love the pigs and was not happy at the way they were treated. When a job as a potter’s assistant came up, he took it and learned the craft of being a potter, soon afterwards setting up his own pottery “The Homestead Pottery.”

Self Sufficiency

James and his family lived a self-sufficient lifestyle, teaching their children at home. It was at this time that James and his partner started “Children First”, an organisation dedicated to supporting families who wished to home – educate their children. He also began the “Mid Waveney Smallholders”, an organisation of local people living and working with the principles of self-sufficiency. The members organised regular markets to sell their goods and met socially, enjoying ceilidhs together.

The Botton Village Experience

An interest in the ideas of Rudolf Steiner kindled in James’s 1968 experiences led him and his family to move to Whitby so that their children could attend the Steiner Waldorf school based in the unique setting of a Threefold Camphill Community at Botton Village.

The Mustard Seed is the Smallest

James continued to work as a potter for a time, but then opened up “The Mustard Seed” a vegetarian café/ restaurant and wholefood shop in Whitby a place where James hoped he could literally sow those seeds of new ideas relating to health, education, economy, and spirituality which had blossomed so powerfully in himself in 1968.

Friendly Business

Looking for new ways of doing business, James founded COMMONBOX, Mutual Help Amongst Small Friendly Businesses. More than 100 businesses would regularly meet to share experience and to socialise.  In COMMONBOX there were no subscription fees, each member simply put whatever they could afford into a wooden box (the Common Box) to fund gatherings and any events. The philosophy underpinning the organisation was that members who met socially and formed connections were more likely to use each other’s businesses and skills, often discounting their rates for each other. This proved to be the case and was very successful.

Discovering Propolis

In 1990 James made his first connection with honeybees and one of their most remarkable products – propolis. Bees make propolis by combining resins harvested from plants and trees with enzymes and use it to protect their hives from infection. It has been used as a medicine by humans for thousands of years. James created the Propolis Information Bureau to bring together all the scientific and medical information about propolis that he could find. He also began researching and writing about this amazing substance which has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties in addition to boosting your immune system.

Between 1990 and 1996 James’s interest in propolis changed from a hobby to a global business. He co-founded Bee Health, a company devoted to exploring the power of propolis.  As part of his marketing push James sent a journalist at The Sun newspaper a sample of propolis. He found the propolis so helped his asthma that he wrote an article in the Sun Newspaper with contact details for James’s business. The response was incredible and the business, which had previously sold relatively small amounts of propolis, became extremely busy.

During this time James was also instrumental in setting up the Oxford Propolis Research Group, a group of academics exploring the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of propolis and its use in treating burns.

Starting Again

James travelled the world representing his business and in 1996 returned from Japan with the prospect of a £13 million contract. However, in 1997 James’s business partners decided to oust him from the business, a hugely stressful time for him, and he had to start again.

In 1998 he joined the Board of Herbal Apothecary one of the country’s leading herbal medicine manufacturers developing a second passion for natural medicine – research into plant-based medicines.

in 1999 James worked with a bee products company in the USA, CC Pollen, helping them to build a propolis extraction unit and cementing a personal and business friendship that has lasted decades.

In 2001 James wrote and published “Bee Propolis – Natural Healing from the Hive” which is probably the most comprehensive overview of research into propolis in the English language. It explains how to use propolis as part of everyday care, with advice on preparations and dosages, as well as describing the usage of propolis throughout history and across large areas of the world.

Nature’s Laboratory – Sustainable Medicine

In 2002 James started Nature’s Laboratory which incorporates the BeeVital brand and in 2004 BeeVital were awarded a SMART award of £125,000 for research into propolis. The SMART award is a governmental grant for innovation, and this was the first time that a natural product had been granted this award. The research was undertaken in conjunction with Dr. Dave Watson at Strathclyde University. Over 30 papers on propolis research have now emerged from University of Strathclyde collaboration.

In 2005 James bought Herbal Apothecary and it joined BeeVital as part of Nature’s Laboratory Ltd. In 2008 David Bellamy, botanist, environmentalist, author, and TV presenter, opened a new 8000 square ft. factory housing Nature’s Laboratory, BeeVital and Herbal Apothecary.

Discovering Geographic Medicine

In 2010 James’s collaborative research discovered the geographic qualities of propolis. They found that in warmer climates the antibiotic qualities of propolis were stronger and in more moderate climates the anti-inflammatory properties were more pronounced. This was to prove a crucial factor in James’s interests and work going forward.

Founding Apiceutical Research Centre

n 2011 James started the Apiceutical Research Centre (ARC)  which had a two-fold mission 1) to research medicines from the beehive. 2) to promote sustainable beekeeping.  During the same year, ARC organised a conference at Strathclyde University: Apiceuticals: Future Medicine.

Propolis & Oral Health

Also, during this year James published Propolis in Oral Health Care, a practical guide to the uses of propolis in oral health care, along with Dr. Philip Wander, founder of the British Homeopathic Dental Association.

The Birth of BeePharma Africa

In 2013 James was ready to give up on pushing forward with his research work, but on a visit to Strathclyde University, a ground-breaking discovery was discussed, which was that in Cameroon, in any area where sleeping sickness was a problem, propolis had been found to contain anti-trypanosomes, that is chemicals which were active against sleeping sickness. This discovery reinforced James’s belief that propolis could be a potent geographic medicine, i.e., that bees collect and incorporate into propolis, chemicals that are an immune response to health issues in a specific geographical area. This finding reinvigorated James’s research interest and he formulated a plan for BeePharma Africa, an organisation with the aims of building a consortium of:

 to work together to further understand, develop and deliver honeybee derived medicines and health support in relation to three of Africa’s most intractable diseases:

The International Propolis Research Group

In 2016 James and Dr. Dave Watson at the University of Strathclyde were instrumental in organising the first major international conference on Propolis in Human and Bee Health,

In the same year, James founded the International Propolis research Group (IPRG) an organisation dedicated to guiding research and collaboration into propolis, creating a database of research and organising international conferences on the subject of propolis.

In 2018 IPRG was instrumental in organising the 2nd international IPRG conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, with 120 attendees and 40 papers presented from 21 countries.

A third IPRG conference was planned for 2020 in Istanbul, but the pandemic was at large, and lockdowns introduced. In response to this and with exciting studies on propolis and its role with Covid 19, alongside pharmaceutical interest in propolis as an emerging medicine, the conference was planned online for 2021. It was hugely successful with 40 papers presented and 400 participants from 90 countries.

GBMG – Global Bee Medicine Group

In 2021 James started the Global Bee Medicine Group (GBMG) with the International Federation of Apitherapists to promote the wide range of medicinal products produced by the honeybee.  

Propolis – A Major Contribution to Sustainable Medicine

The 4th International IPRG Conference will be in 2022 and online- “Propolis- A Major Contribution to Sustainable Medicine.” James hopes that the online format will continue to widen access to many people who may not have been able to travel to or afford the fees for a physical conference. The conference facilitates online question and answer sessions and discussion forums where participants can chat further about subjects that interest them.

BeeVital has quite a story to tell from its first glimmerings in James’s imagination to the world leader in propolis research that it now is!