An apiary containing colonies of more than a quarter of a million bees is thriving in a green oasis within one of Europe’s most concentrated industrial areas.
This year the four hives in the grounds of the Wilton Centre – which overlooks the 2,000 acre Wilton International – produced hundreds of jars of high-quality honey.
For every jar sold at the Wilton Centre £1 was donated to nearby charity Zoe’s Place, the baby hospice.
Bees have been kept in the parkland at the front of the Wilton Centre for many years and were looked after by a beekeeper. After he stopped, the hives – which were largely hidden from view – were neglected. But that has all changed thanks to scientist and amateur beekeeper Emily Brown who works at the Centre.
Chemist Emily’s interest in bees began six years ago during visits to local agricultural shows with her children. “The Cleveland Beekeeping Association was always there and my kids would want to try the honey and it was costing me a fortune,” she said.
The 43-year-old took a course in beekeeping and set up hives in her garden. As her hobby grew she needed more space and was surprised to learn that there were already hives at the Wilton Centre. Over the past three years she has worked hard to restore them and her 14-year-old daughter, who has passed a junior beekeeping exam, lends a hand.
Even though it seems an unlikely setting, Emily said the bees have everything they want: “They need water – and they’re next to a lake. They’re surrounded by trees. In the spring they’ve got the dandelions and in the late spring they’ve got the heather.”
As well as her care and attention, the bees also benefit from visits by a national bee inspector three times a year.
“The site is registered as an Enhanced Sentinel Apiary. This means that the National Bee Unit checks it for exotic pests and diseases,” explained Emily.
“It was requested for this monitoring due to its proximity to the ports. They are looking for any exotic pests and diseases arriving by boat which might attack the bees or affect their health. The idea is that anything would be spotted early and contained.”
As well as providing donations for Zoe’s Place, Emily uses money from the sale of the honey to maintain the hives and develop the Wilton Centre colonies. “I don’t take all of the honey. At the end of the day it’s there to help the bees get through winter. I’ve got a breeding hive. That’s where I try to get eggs to get more Queens,” she said and provided this reassurance for people who are scared of bees: “Unless they feel threatened they won’t sting. The time that people get stung is when they get trapped in their clothes or hair. As long as you stay still they’ll fly away.”
The Wilton Centre is managed by the Pioneer Group which has another nine sites in its portfolio across the UK and Ireland. Together they are home to nearly 650 businesses.