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Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Monday, 17 May 2010 12:05 UK
Bee Part Of It on BBC Suffolk with our Ickworth hive
By Jon Wright
BBC Suffolk

Children constructing a bee hive
Lesson one: Building a bee hive

Pupils from Ickworth Park Primary in Suffolk have been busy bees helping paint the new BBC Suffolk hive ready for its residents.

As part of a campaign to highlight the plight of the bee, the BBC and the National Trust have joined forces.

Our new hive is based at Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds and over the summer we'll be following the progress of our new friends.

We'll also have thousands of 'bee friendly' plant seeds to distribute.

"They are really, really excited about it," said teacher Jane Cook.

"We've been learning about bees so they know how important it is that we build up the bee population."

The hive is located at the school's allotment which they have been tending since September 2009.

"We've been able to get children back in touch with nature, with where food comes from," said Jane.

Honeybees work outside their hive
Plant flowers that bloom in spring and autumn for a sustained nectar source

"They are learning that honey doesn't just come from the supermarket, so it's a good all round exercise."

This hive is the second to be featured as BBC Suffolk presenter Lesley Dolphin has already started her beekeeping career under the watch of Laurie Wiseman, who has 11 hives in Aldeburgh.

Humble bumble for Springwatch

Bees are the world's most important pollinating insects and are worth about £200m a year to British agriculture.

Their dramatic decline in numbers has become a cause of global concern.

Across the UK people are joining Bee Part Of It, a BBC project supported by wildlife presenter Kate Humble, to create local bee-friendly spaces.

"Most of our wild honeybees have died out and we, as humans, are very dependent on bees to pollinate food crops," said Kate.

"I realised that by becoming a beekeeper I could do something really tangible to help the fairly desperate situation that our bee population has found itself in.

"If you believe what Einstein is reputed to have said - we would only survive for four years if there were no bees in the world," she added.


Kate Humble: Help the UK's bees

Professor Francis Ratnieks of Sussex University is Britain's only professor of apiculture, the study of beekeeping.

He said it's impossible to predict how the 45 new Bee Part Of It hives at National Trust properties across the UK will fare.

"You're not guaranteed anything. For a start, the queen could die, and if the colony fails to rear a replacement queen, the colony will die out.

"A colony can also swarm, meaning that half the worker bees and the queen leave to set up a new colony. This is nature and nothing is guaranteed."

Bee-friendly flowers

Owning a hive and learning to be a beekeeper has become a popular pastime, with many people taking courses run by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA).

Honeybees are the only bees to produce enough honey for us to collect
There are 250 species of bee in the UK consisting of bumblebees, honeybees and solitary bees - with approximately 25,000 known species of bee in the world
Pollination delivers €14.2bn to the European economy, most of this is through bumblebees and honeybees
Bumblebees have smelly feet! They produce oily secretions to inform other bees which flowers have already been visited
Source: The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

"Our membership has increased by around 4,000 people in the last 12 months," said Martin Smith, president of the BBKA.

"A typical course might include a couple of days' theory and 10 practical sessions spread over the season.

"In terms of cost you're looking at around £500 to get yourself started as a beekeeper. It's important too that if you're starting a colony to try and source the bees from your local area."

If becoming a beekeeper is a commitment too far, then planting bee-friendly flowers or creating a home for solitary bees is a less time-consuming option.

Solitary bees have been found to be 300 times better at pollinating apple blossom than honeybees and there are vegetables, like tomatoes, that are only pollinated by the bumblebee.

A bug's life

A range of other insects also play their small, but vital part, in pollinating our fruits and flowers.

According to the charity Buglife, 90% of wildflowers could be threatened with extinction without insects to pollinate them. Honey, chocolate, coffee and silk are just some of the luxuries that wouldn't exist without invertebrates.

"Humans and wildlife depend for their survival on the pollination services that are provided by hoverflies, butterflies, moths and beetles as well as all the bees," said Matt Shardlow, ecologist and chief executive of Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust.

"The loss of wildflowers in the countryside has pushed many species to the brink so it's really important to plant wild type flowers and put them back into the countryside."

Beekeeping isn't just a rural operation - bees can thrive in villages, towns and cities as long as the conditions are right.

BBC Radio Suffolk will have 1000 packets of free bee-friendly wildflower seeds to distribute at the Suffolk Show 2010.

We'll be buzzing around the marquee at plot 490, Trinity Park near Ipswich, Wednesday 2 and Thursday 3, June.

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