Starting Out with School Beekeeping

Mrs Burney has been supporting two members of staff at Coombe Wood School as they embark on their school beekeeping journey.

As part of my membership with the Croydon Beekeepers Association (CBKA) I sometime offer mentoring for new beekeepers. Deputy Head, Duncan Holding, and teaching assistant, Marianne Doe, are members of staff at the Coombe Wood School in Croydon and attended the CBKA beginner’s course. They were looking for a mentor and, as I am planning to work with schools in Croydon, I volunteered.

I have to say I am extremely impressed with their skills so far and I am sure they are going to make excellent beekeepers. They have both been thinking about taking up the hobby for a long time. Duncan through his father and grandfather’s involvement with beekeeping and Marianne through a family friend from her childhood who kept bees as a business. When she collected the bees to take to school she says, ‘I was hit by the sweet, warm smell of wax and propolis and it took me right back to those early year’. The smells of beekeeping are one of the things I love about it – it is a complete sensory experience.

For both, a real highlight of their journey so far has been putting the bees into the hive after they arrived at the school. I went along to help them. I love helping people on their first step to beekeeping as it reminds me of the excitement I experienced on opening my first colony. The real excitement however is what lies ahead for Coombe Wood School and beekeeping.

Bees and the Students

They plan to start a beekeeping club for a small number of children to get some hands-on experience at the hives. Duncan is aware that this is the kind of opportunity that most children would never get the chance to experience. It is so important for schools to offer a wide range of activities to give all children the opportunity to find something at which they can shine.

But this is not just a fantastic opportunity for the handful of children that will attend beekeeping club, there are many opportunities for the children and staff across the school to benefit from having bees on site. There are all the obvious science links with biology and environmental sciences, they plan to have an observation hive and a ‘hive cam’ in the future to enable students to observe the bees from the safety of the classroom. Duncan started his school career as a design and technology teacher and is keen to get some design projects started linked to branding for goods they can sell such as honey or beeswax products. There are also many opportunities for data collection and management when it comes to pest and disease monitoring in hives.

Keeping Safe

I asked Duncan and Marianne if they have had any feedback from parents who many have been worried about bees on the school grounds. Duncan says, ‘we have informed all the parents and carers and as yet haven’t had any concerns raised.’ Coombe Wood School have been careful to put in place a range of measures and a thorough risk assessment to ensure any danger of stings is mitigated. The beehives are at a suitable distance from the school facilities to not cause any issues to pupils or staff. There are strict rules on wearing PPE whilst opening or going near to the hives and they have checked school records to ensure that there are no children or staff with bee sting allergies.

Beekeeping in schools is a tremendous learning opportunity and I am excited to be able to follow Coombe Wood School’s journey with them.

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