Hitchin Bee Centre by Robin Dartington

Consultations on the project to establish an educational Bee Centre at the edge of Old Hale Way Allotments in Hitchin have gone well. About 10 allotmenteers attended the public meeting on site on 31 March – no objections and a strong welcome from some key figures. Expectations may be hard to meet however – some gardeners seem to think you bring a hive one day and open the honey tap the next!

There were no comments from beekeepers after announcement of the project in Herts News, except from the committee of North Herts.

The Council as landowner has now given formal consent to erection of buildings and to placing 8 hives of bees. Consent may be given to increasing the number of hives in future if all goes well. The beekeeping consent followed submission of a comprehensive Environmental Health Assessment to answer the Council’s long list of possible disasters – we have promised to observe a large number of risk control measures, all of which in fact amount to no more than common sense. An article (‘Buzzing with enthusiasm’) in Kitchen Garden, April 2007 was timely – featuring the bee project set up in 2005 by the Molland’s Lane Allotment Society, South Ockendon, Essex. Hives are sited on the roof of an allotment shed and also in a wired enclosure overlooked by a window from where visitors watch the hives being managed. Last year, honey sales from three hives contributed £150 to community funds – and plot holders have also noticed an increase in their crops.

Commemorative tree planting in BBKA’s new Demonstration Apiary during the Spring Convention gave opportunity to introduce the project to Clive Joyce, BBKA’s Apiary Manager. He was very happy with the suggestion that Hitchin Bee Centre could act as a satellite, sharing experience and published information. The new top bee man at Defra’s bee unit was also very happy with the suggestion that HBC could act as a contact point and distribute Defra’s pamphlets to local beekeepers who may not necessarily be members of associations (Defra estimate there are 30,000 people keeping bees, only 11,000 of whom are members of associations).

Defra will write a quotable letter welcoming the project, to support raising the funds (total around £12,000). An application has already been made to The Conservation Foundation for £1,000 for earth moving and fencing the future Bee Garden and Picnic Area. The next important step is to ask the executive committee of Herts BKA for their response to the proposal and (hopefully) a quotable expression of support. As already reported, North Herts has welcomed the project but decided not to be involved in financing – that is understandable but a total absence of a local contribution will weaken applications to other bodies as it looks like damning with faint praise.

It has seemed appropriate to suggest local beekeepers will fund the hives and bees. Eight complete hives with bees would cost £4,000. The supplier of Dartington hives has offered eight sets of woodwork at £150 each (£1,200). Fixings/paint/plasticware will add £200. Assuming all labour will be voluntary, we need to raise only £1,400 (35%) in hard cash plus eight nucs and additional frames/foundation as gifts in kind. HBKA holds a reserve of £4,636 - £17 per member. This is less than the £100 per member held by North Herts, but hopefully may allow some contribution to back up an expression of goodwill.

I expect that, as the project initiator, I will eventually have to put up any financial shortfall in the core funding myself. There is a further way however that HBA could help, through deploying its charitable status. If I make that a donation to HBKA, recovery of tax would add 28% to the purchasing value. It would mean that goods bought by HBA with the donation would need to remain the property of HBKA and be made available for use by HBC only on loan – but as the intention is to transform HBC into an enduring not-for-profit organisation, that may be acceptable. The mechanism may be that I make a loan to HBKA now to fund such purchases, on the understanding that the loan is later commuted to a donation to cover any shortfall after other donations have been sought. But this leaps ahead – Adrian Waring has suggested the large painted surfaces of the Dartington hives could carry advertising or sponsor’s logo’s - all avenues will be investigated.

Would HBKA like its logo on one hive? WATCH THIS SPACE!

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