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Beekeeping buzz is good news for Devon hive firm
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

A bee on a daffodil
More and more people are doing their bit for honey bees

A Devon-based bee hive manufacturer is struggling to keep up with demand, as more and more people take up beekeeping to help save the honey bee.

National Bee Supplies of Okehampton has increased staff numbers from two to 10 and boss Bill Stevens hopes to double the size of his workshop.

"It has sky-rocketed over the past two years," he told BBC Devon.

"The publicity about the loss of honey bees has created a desire for beekeeping, which is great for bees."

The global bee population has been decimated by disease in recent years - largely as a result of the Varroa mite

Now, it seems, they might be fighting back - with the help of the public.

Bill, a retired firefighter, initially took up beekeeping as a hobby when he lived in the south east.

Following his enforced retirement for health reasons, he decided to buy the bee hive business in Okehampton eight years ago, following the death of the firm's owner.

Bee hives
Bee hive sales have "sky-rocketed," says Bill

"I used to buy my bee hives from here, but then the owner sadly died. My wife and I talked about moving down to Devon and it all went from there.

"No-one could have envisaged the increase in demand since then. There are obviously lots of people out there who have wanted to be beekeepers but thought it was difficult or you'd need a licence.

"We've got a full order book and we are working really hard to keep up with demand, and I know that is the same story for our competitors.

"Our business was up by 50% for the financial year which has just ended in April, compared to the year before.

"We are applying for planning permission to double the size of the workshop - we want to add 10,000 square feet, and we intend to invest £250,000 in the business over the next nine to 12 months.

"It's amazing really, in the middle of a recession."

Bill's firm makes several thousand bee hives a year and April and May are the peak months. The hives are made from Canadian cedar wood which they cut and then dry for a year.

The new beekeeping buzz is not just good news for Bill - it is also a real boost for honey bees.

"Without doubt, with more people taking up beekeeping this will help the bees and should mean we will have more bees," said Bill.

David Milford
Beekeeper David Milford offers some top tips - see below

"All the county beekeepers associations are being inundated with new beekeepers asking for help, advice and training.

"It used to be seen as an old man's hobby and it was very popular during the war because if you kept bees you would get a bigger sugar ration.

"But it's not regarded like that any more - it's a lovely hobby but it's also very, very important.

"There are some people, more educated about this than I am, who say that if we lose the honey bee we will lose mankind within eight years because they are the ones responsible for the food chain as they are out there pollinating."

Bill has more than 100 hives, so it comes as a surprise when he admits: "I've never liked honey - I don't like sweet things.

"But I love bees to bits. The more you keep them, the more you learn about them - they are so enthralling and intelligent and self-sufficient."

If you want to do your bit for the honey bee, there are some key tips for managing successful hives, according to Devon beekeeper David Milford.

David, from Shaugh Prior, has successfully produced honey for the last 15 years and sells to local outlets.

His top tip is to join your local beekeepers association to learn about hive management - and fill your garden with bee-friendly species.

"They love flowering plants and fruit," said David.

"So think of things like cherry trees, lime trees, raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, blueberries and gooseberries.

"You'll also find that in helping them, they'll help you by pollinating.

"They also love herbs and plants like buddleia and lavender, which butterflies love too.

"Also, don't use pesticides, and be considerate to your neighbours."




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