Many beekeepers are turning away from expensive hives and equipment in favour of a more natural approach. Vicky Liddell meets the man tackling swarms with his bare hands
IT’S midsummer in the village of Tangley, Hampshire, and the warm air is thrumming with the sound of busy bees. It’s music to the ears of Matt Somerville, a beekeeper and hive builder who’s been quietly amassing a community of the wild insects for the past few years. Known locally as ‘the bee whisperer’ thanks to his propensity for collecting swarms unveiled and ungloved, he prefers to be thought of as a rewilder of the honey bee. ‘I still get stung,’ he explains, ‘but bare hands allow for a more delicate, sensitive approach with less stress for the bees.’
This type of natural beekeeping is gaining followers largely due to its simplicity. ‘There’s no expensive equipment to buy or complicated rules to follow,’ Mr Somerville enthuses. ‘Once a hive is erected, the bees usually find it within days and start building a comb.’ Hives are inspected only twice a year, there’s no chemical intervention and any surplus honey may be harvested in the autumn. This approach also encourages strong, healthy colonies that are much better at resisting varroa and other viruses.
‘It’s more about conservation and less about honey harvesting,’ explains Mr Somerville, whose ‘bee epiphany’ came six years ago, when he was visiting a cider-apple orchard in Devon, which he planted 25 years ago. ‘The sound of bees usually signals a good harvest, but that time, it was eerily quiet,’ he recalls.
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March 20, 2019