National Hive Count

December 6, 2019

It has been a while since I wrote a piece for my blog. In fact I have spent most of 2019 troubled by issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity, Extinction Rebellion protests and the work of Greta Thunberg and the school student Friday afternoon protest. I am dismayed by politicians worldwide playing to their partisan audiences whose preoccupations are with local (sometimes secondary issues) while we witness unprecedented temperatures, floods, droughts, fires and ice melting and extinctions.


I have been blessed this year by travelling on three continents and trying to think more widely about these issues. I have seen aspects of nature and human nature that were new to me. And at home I see local attitudes to management of The Park which worry me deeply. Be it local or international much to be concerned about. I hope to write more regularly in 2020.


Meanwhile, around this time of year Beekeepers in UK receive a request from The National Bee Unit to update the record of the number of hives that they have.


This extract from The BeeBase webpage explains why we are asked to do the annual update. 


The National Bee Unit is again asking beekeepers to take part in the National Hive Count and update BeeBase with their colony numbers. Over 7,000 beekeepers completed the Hive Count in 2018!! This information is vital for our planning and preparation for outbreaks of disease or exotic pest incursions. Recent outbreaks of the Asian hornet demonstrate the need for accurate and up to date figures for the number and location of beekeepers, hives and apiaries in the UK. This data helps to inform where we need to deploy Bee Inspectors and Asian hornet traps, improving our chances of early detection of this damaging invasive species.

We will also use the figures we have on BeeBase to monitor honey bee populations over time. Having up to date records that reflect the current position in each year is vital and allows us to monitor changes over time. For this, it is important we ask all beekeepers to notify us of the number of hives they owned on 1st November 2019. Using this date helps us to ensure consistency across the country by reflecting the national position at a single point in time. Please provide this information by 31st December. If for any reason you are unable to update your BeeBase records before this date, your submission will still help with our contingency planning and preparation.


That is clear enough.  I have updated my record.


The fascinating thing for me arose when I looked at my own BeeBase Record. As you will know the record contains one’s apiary post code for purposes associated with giving notice if there is a nearby apiary with Notifiable Disease problems.

My record shows that there are 83 other apiary records on BeeBase for apiaries within a 10km (6 mile) radius of my own. Wow I thought, I would not have guessed that number if I had been asked. I know that a 10km radius represents quite a big area; over 300 square kilometres (more than 110 square miles). Assuming that most beekeepers in my area have a BeeBase Record then I was intrigued to work out some average statistics as follows:

  • In my area there is about one apiary per 3.6 square kilometres or one apiary per 1.3 square miles

  • Assuming my apiary is average with 4 colonies, then there are nearly 400 colonies within a 10km radius

  • That means that at peak colony size, say June, there would be 400x50000 honeybees, 20 million bees

  • If a third of those bees were foraging on a good day there would be an average of 22000 honeybees working in each square kilometre. However that is only 90 per acre and suddenly it does not seem such a great number does it? (I know that in reality apiaries tend to be close to areas with foraging potential so bees/acre will be higher in the nectar rich areas).

  • If each apiary produced honey at the same modest rate as my own, that was 320lbs in 2019, this particular 10km radius would have produced 26500 lbs of honey. That’s almost 12 imperial tons.

  • If that honey was placed in 1lb jars that is nearly 370 half gross boxes of jars. More than £8000 worth of jars with lids.

  • Let’s say that all those jars of honey were valued at £4 each that’s over £100000.

  • Of course all of these average numbers would be substantially different if any of the 83 apiaries was of a commercial scale.

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