by Christine Aitken of St Albans BKA
Nine months ago when I accepted the position as secretary of St Albans division I knew it would be a steep learning curve. My predecessor Anne Wingate, who had knowledgably steered us and HBKA for so many years, would be a hard act to follow. It has been an interesting gestation.
We started the year with our beginners course. Lots to organise but with an amazingingly helpful committee and enthusiastic membership it was a success with twenty-two staying the course and ten taking up our ‘Hives-for-all’ scheme at our association apiaries. Quietly we got on with mentoring our beginners and looking after our own bees.
Then BANG the full force of media coverage on the plight of the honeybee hit us. Bees and beekeeping were suddenly on everyones agenda. Personally I already had quite a full calendar of talks to clubs and an annual school visit organised. Requests for ‘someone to explain the issues’ to W.I. Clubs started to arrive and many schools thought their children would ‘really benefit’ from a talk and visit. One St Albans school produced 210 children for me to speak to! It was a long afternoon……Various environmental events and local shows requested our presence - but we were already committed to three such events in June/July.
I hardly dared answer my telephone as sometimes as many as three calls daily were of interested people anxious to start beekeeping ‘NOW’. They needed to save the planet. Suddenly people started to notice wasps, bumblebees and honey bees and didn’t know the difference. Swarm calls in abundance and I visited many interesting people and places. Surprisingly, Sunday 4th October, after a phone call from Herts Fire Brigade, found us in St Albans High Street, outside the Clock Tower collecting a colony of bees which had fallen to the pavement after spending the last three months building up nicely on a branch of a tree. The Council had been made aware many times that the bees were there but failed to inform anyone. Thank goodness no-one was standing at the pedestrian crossing when it fell to the ground. Nurtured it will hopefully become a beginners colony next spring.
My Inbox daily contained at least two requests for information on how to take up the interest in beekeeping which had long been in their thoughts. Apparently ‘…the (article/T.V./radio) programme said you could keep bees anywhere’ and ‘…it would be so good for the children to have bees in the garden.’
I soon put together a standard e-mail suggesting they do some reading (and I suspect Amazon soon ran out of ‘Bees at the bottom of your garden’). I explained how St Albans division help prospective beekeepers by inviting them to our apiary site on a Saturday afternoon, don a bee-suit and watch our beginners and their mentors look at their colonies. Our apiary on most Saturday afternoons bulged at the seams and invariably there were not enough bee-suits to go round. The beginners course waiting list for 2010 very soon filled up and there is a very long cancellation list too.
The press obtained my details from HBKA website. Could a young lady reporter from the local newspaper join us for a fun day out looking at bees? A photographer wanted to take pictures of beekeepers at work to add to his portfolio. Another lady (comparing us to Bedfordshire Beekeepers) complained bitterly that St Albans BKA did not have a website of information and HBKA website was poor and what we really needed was her husband to design a proper site for us. I tried to explain that we were all volunteers and caring of our bees came before a website and would her husband do one for free - but she wasn’t listening.
With Capel Manor, and our stand to organise, the season was drawing to a close. There were winter meetings and beginners course tutoring arrangements to be confirmed and just when I thought it was safe to put my head above the hive roof…I answered the phone and was asked by a nice man from Endemol Production Co. if I was up for taking part in the game show ‘Total Wipe-out’ with a trip to Argentina, a prospective prize of £10,000 and was I available for late October to early December? Yes it was genuine and no I wasn’t too old to take part and as there was such a lot of interest in bees lately the BBC had requested beekeepers to participate in a programme! As I picked myself off the floor, I suggested and it was agreed to put this request on the St Albans BKA blog. I am patiently awaiting to hear if we have any brave souls out there.
So here I am, nine months on from taking up the challenge to follow in the footsteps of Anne. An interesting year was 2009, beyond my expectations and I think I am ready for the challenges of the next two years. With my statuary three years completed in 2012 then it is over to someone else in the division. Are you up for it?