I’ve loved bees for as long as I can remember,” says Emma Buckley. “My dad’s been a beekeeper for over 50 years, so I was involved from a young age. I had a mini beekeeping suit by the time I was four years old.”
Now 30, Emma’s never lost her passion for the pursuit, and – as chief executive of Buckley’s Bees – she has now turned it into a business. The company does everything from running courses and breeding bees to creating ‘spaces for nature’ by introducing hives into them for individuals and corporate clients.
“Many people just don’t realise how important bees are,” she says. “If you look along the shelves in a supermarket, what has been pollinated by a bee goes far beyond fresh fruit and vegetables. It will even extend to the contents of items such as ready meals and pasta sauces.”
The contribution of bees goes beyond our food supply, she explains. Their cross-pollination endeavours encourage healthy hedgerows and plants, which in turn brings wider biodiversity benefits, helping species such as small mammals and birds.
“We need more bees – and particularly more native honeybees, as they’re naturally adapted to suit UK conditions and therefore likely to prosper.”
However, a combination of factors has resulted in a dramatic drop in the population over recent decades. Pesticides, the loss of habitats caused by urbanisation and the importation of different strains – which has brought diseases and pests – have left the native species “in crisis”, according to Emma.
The Royal Society of Biology suggests that even in the two decades between 1985 and 2005, the number of managed honeybee hives in England declined by 50%.
“We’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past 100 years – that’s a shocking figure and represents a neardisappearance of an important food source for pollinators,” says Emma.
Reversing the decline
Relatively simple steps can help arrest the ailing fortunes of pollinator populations. Research by Plantlife, which spearheaded the ‘No Mow May’ campaign, has shown cutting lawns once every four weeks gives plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.
Meanwhile, areas of longer unmown grass are often more diverse in their range of flowers, with nectar-rich plants like oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed increasing the range of nectar sources and extending its availability into late summer.
“A lot of the plants people call weeds are actually brilliant food sources. When I see a dandelion, I don’t think ‘weed’, I think ‘great!’”
Changing attitudes Emma has noticed a big increase in people’s awareness of – and desire to do something about – environmental issues, even in the four years since she founded Buckley’s Bees.
“One household won’t change the world, but together individuals and companies can make a huge difference.”
She counts firms such as Yeo Valley, Arla Dairies and Taylor Wimpey among her corporate clients, with her business model based on working with them to create bee-friendly spaces around offices, factories and new developments, introducing hives and then offering a fully managed beekeeping service.
“It’s basically a one-stop shop. At its simplest, all they need to do is put some hardstanding down."
“We do a lot of due diligence to see what’s in the area, in terms of natural parks and farmland, because I would never place a hive where there wasn’t enough food to sustain them. If there isn’t enough flora, we’ll work with clients to increase the natural spaces around their site, plus try to create ‘footsteps into nature’ for the bees.”
We are trying to increase the native population, but we also think about local strains. It’s important to place the right bees in the right location’
The business has come a long way since the one-time Harper Adams University student launched it. She’d been working for a fleet management company, then had a spell travelling when the idea came to her.
“I’d grown up on a smallholding and always been practical, but when I was in New Zealand, I started writing down ideas of what I could do when I got back. My dad was starting to retire and had reduced the number of hives he had to about 10. I landed, then said: I’ve had a great business idea – we need more bees
“He’s been incredibly supportive and has always been passionate about the native honeybee and trying to get the gene stock back – so that definitely influenced me.
“Beekeepers have done a huge amount of work to regenerate stock, but honeybees were still on the verge of extinction not too long ago. Luckily, we’ve been able to tap into the pockets of genes that were left and breed from that.
“We are trying to increase the native population, but we also think about local strains. It’s important to place the right bees in the right location. Bees, she says, are tremendously relaxing and therapeutic. “Some people go birdwatching, but watching bees is much better.
“As soon as I start talking to people about the hive and the different roles that the bees take, their mind switches away from their stresses and anxieties. Bees offer a great way of unwinding and bring many mental health benefits. “I’m still as wowed as ever by them. Every colony is different and every day is different. There’s so much we can learn from bees.”