Earlier this month on 3rd and 4th April, James Fearnley, CEO of Nature’s Laboratory and BeeVital & founder of the BeeArc project, attended the Learning from the Bees Conference, organised by The Natural Beekeeping Trust, at Sheepdrove Organic Farm and Conference Centre, Hungerford. 150 people gathered for this 3rd conference to learn from the bees, as the organisers explained; “in a spirit of reflection, celebration and inquiry as we acknowledge the honeybee’s place in this world as a creature worthy of respect and protection.”
James gave a talk at the conference about the BeeArc, a project to build a research and visitor centre, to explore and put into practice more sustainable ways of living, working and celebrating life, inspired by the honeybee. His main message was the way in which the bees can help us to understand how to read nature and how to live and work together in a better way. The BeeArc will illustrate how the bees operate with humans in 3 main areas; socially, culturally and economically and how we can learn from them to live more harmoniously with nature and each other. Find out more at beearc.com.
Our Own of Blessing of Bees
It was last summer that we were blessed by a visitation of bees. We had placed a bait hive in our orchard and had no interest from the bees until one day in July at around 3pm we heard a loud humming overhead and watched as a swarm descended into the hive. It was an extraordinarily beautiful event that left us feeling very fortunate that the bees had chosen to come to us. Now as the spring was unfolding, and we had witnessed our bees first forays after winter, celebrating that they had survived the long and brutally cold season in the middle of the North York Moors, it felt like a very appropriate time to be joining together with other lovers of the honeybee. It was in this spirit that James travelled to the conference to give a talk and take part in the gathering which brought together natural beekeepers, conservationists, scientists, philosophers and artists.
The Focus of the Learning from the Bees Conference
The conference was organised with the intention to explore how we can best serve the honeybee whilst fully respecting its essentially wild nature. The gathering also aimed to address how the honeybee can help us to deepen our own relations with the natural world and engage more fully with the spiritual imperatives of our time.
The conference showcased the practical work of outstanding individuals whose entire focus is on serving the honeybee in a spirit of selfless giving. There were also workshops and classes aimed at widening our perspectives on mindful and artistic approaches to the bees in our lives.
Pre conference visit to the Blenheim Bees
For James the trip began with a visit to Blenheim Palace the day before the conference. He spent a day finding out about the estate and the colonies of wild native honeybees, previously thought to be extinct due to disease and competition from imported species. These wild forest bees were recently discovered by bee conservationist Filipe Salbany, the colonies live in the estate’s oak woodland, high up in the trees. Small, dark, and furry, the bees are thought to be descendants of the indigenous British honeybees. They nest in holes in trees 15 to 20 metres from the ground in colonies much smaller than managed beehives, lining the nest and entrance with propolis. Propolis is an incredible substance used by honeybees as the hive’s immune system. It’s also very beneficial for human health. These wild bees can forage in temperatures as low as 4C and have multiple queens to ensure the colony survives, and the fittest queen rules. Crucially, these wild honeybees are resistant to the varroa mite, a parasite which is deadly for other bees. Their discovery has been an amazing boost, and demonstrated the value of our ancient woodlands, giving hope for a future more connected to nature.
The group that James was part of was one of the first groups to be able to go into the areas where the native bees had been found. It was a very moving experience to be so close to these wild bees and be in the ancient woodland, where some of the oak trees are 1000 years old.
The Blenheim Bees - photograph Filipe Salbany
James’s Conference Highlights
The day at Blenheim had been an incredible precursor to the Learning from the Bees conference and I asked James to tell us some of his highlights from this conference which focused on serving the honeybee and bee-centred beekeeping.
“There were so many highlights to this conference, but I’ll pick out a few to share with you.”
“One of the highlights was Jeremy Naydler’s talk on the new levels of sensitivity and inner quiet needed to develop and understand nature and the bees and also meeting people such as Yossi Aud of Bees for Peace. Yossi worked with the World Bee Project’s pioneering 2019 programme which successfully established apiaries for 15 Palestinian women on the rooftops of their home, and developed a programme model which enabled sustainable beekeeper livelihoods for women living in hardship conditions.
It was also inspiring to meet Alex Tuchman, who is the director of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, USA. He carries on the amazing work begun by founders Gunther Hauk and Vivian Struve-Hauk. The sanctuary is located on 41 acres of biodynamically developed land, and practises biodynamic beekeeping and a heart-centred approach to the human- bee partnership. The sanctuary is guided by the central questions -Who are the honeybees? What do they need? How can we serve them?
It was a pleasure to meet Simon Kellam from the Natural Beekeeping Trust who has gifted our BeeArc project a beautiful hive for wild bees. We are incredibly grateful to the Natural Beekeeping Trust and to EcoHive for the hive which Simon will be installing soon in a large old oak tree on our land. It was a pleasure as always to meet up with our friend and colleague Paula Carnell naturopathic beekeeping consultant and Friendship Co-ordinator for our BeeArc project.
It was very nourishing to meet with people working in similar areas to us, such as Steve from Ambeessadors who was involved in running the last Learning from the Bees conference in Berlin.
Also inspiring to meet up with Jonathan Powell, a director of the Natural Beekeeping Trust, who runs two bee rewilding projects on organic farms in Spain and the UK. He is committed to working with wild bees to protect their habitat and develop a greater understanding of how they live.
In general, the theme of the conference was the focus away from beekeeping and much more towards looking after wild bees. Speakers from around the world focused on protecting wild bees as survival stock because the health of honeybees generally has been diminishing through human management and commercialisation.”
One last thought from James – “It has been a real privilege to see the wild bees at Blenheim and to be part of such a significant and thoughtful conference, where the bee is placed at the centre and the message is that we really have to think of the future.”
Thanks to James Fearnley, Blenheim Estate & to the organisers & participants of the Learning from the Bees Conference.