The students of West Rise Junior School in Eastbourne had a few new faces to get to know this year – one million of them to be exact. But rather than an extreme case of primary-level overcrowding, the school had in fact become the owner of a swarm of bees. Below, headteacher Mike Fairclough explains all.
It is estimated that humans would last only about five years on our planet without bees. This is because bees are integral to the pollination of plants and we need plants in the food chain for our own survival, as well as the survival of the animals we eat.
We should be extremely worried, therefore, that the international bee population is in decline and we should be doing all we can to educate people about the value of bees. West Rise Junior School is leading from the front: it has started bee keeping.
The school received almost a million bees in July of this year. They are of the black honey bee variety and are now resident in ten hives on our school marshland.
The children painted the hives with bright colours and pictures of the marshland. Some had images of our herd of water buffalo, which are resident on the site, while others depicted reeds and “welcome” signs, colourfully painted to please the bees.
The day before the arrival of the bees, we held a festival on our marsh, which we named ‘Bee Fest’. The children made bees from pine cones and suspended them from willow withies with black thread. There was live music, archery, pond dipping, nature walks and a picnic for the local community.
To the astonishment of the school community and our bee keepers, at the same time as we were enjoying Bee Fest in the hot July sun, a wild swarm of honey bees flew across the marshland and entered one of the hives the children had painted. The bee keepers had never seen anything like this before and the children and staff were blown away.
The purchased bees arrived the next day and have settled in nicely. We are working very closely with a local group of natural bee keepers. These experienced professionals have been introducing the children and staff at the school to the process of bee keeping and they are opening our eyes up to the magical dimension of bees and their relationship with humans.
Now our black bee sanctuary is established, the hands-on bee keeping with the children begins this term. It is intended that the children will become bee keepers at the school and learn everything from harvesting honey to collecting swarms. We hope this will encourage other schools to take up bee keeping and ensure that the next generation not only value bees but have a hand in boosting their numbers, too.