The primary pupils getting a buzz out of beekeeping
Although most schoolchildren would be warned to stay as far away from swarms of bees as possible, two primary pupils have proved they are a safe pair of hands around a beehive by becoming Scotland's youngest formally certified beemasters.
Last month, Dylan Mwakasekele, 10, and Ryan Wootton, 12, passed the official exam run by the Scottish Beekeepers' Association with distinction, after becoming the youngest students ever to complete a year-long beekeeping course at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith.
Dylan, a pupil at Sciennes Primary in Edinburgh, and Ryan, who will start his first year of secondary school at Lasswade High in Bonnyrigg after the summer holidays, were inspired to take up beekeeping after their mothers completed a beekeeping for beginners course at the college in 2013.
Jenny Wootton, Ryan's mother, told TESS that her son had discovered a passion for bees when she set up some hives at their home. "As soon as the bees arrived in the garden, Ryan and I sat down and watched them fly in and out of the hive."
Ryan came with her to Newbattle Abbey's apiary while she was a student there and staff let him look into a hive. "He was hooked from then," Ms Wootton said.
He also met Dylan at the apiary and the two boys decided they wanted to take part in a course themselves.
Hive of activity
The college was keen on the idea, Ms Wootton said. As part of the course, the boys were each given a hive to take care of for a year. With the help of a tutor, they looked after their bees, ensured they were free from disease and learned how to build wax frames for the hives.
"They were examined on that at the end of the year. They had to show they were confident around the bees and recognised the different parts of the hive," Ms Wootton said. "They also had to open the hive and show they understood what they were looking at." The exam also included a multiple-choice test on the theory of beekeeping.
Ryan had not been fazed by attending a college course with a group of adult students, his mother said. And now, having successfully completed the qualification, he wanted to start mentoring students himself.
"I am not sure how practical that is going to be," she said. But the experience has still been hugely positive, she believes. "The course has done him a lot of good. It has given him a lot of confidence. It is also his first experience of an exam."
Ms Wootton said she had never been worried about letting her son interact with the bees. "He has always been so level-headed. I would not let my daughter near them, because she would just panic, but Ryan is just so calm."
Joyce Jack, who is secretary of the Newbattle Beekeepers Association, which was involved in training the boys, said: "They are both fascinated by bees and have gone above and beyond to learn about them. To pass with distinction, you must achieve at least 75 per cent so they have done exceptionally well.
"It's very important that young people take up beekeeping and so it was incredibly rewarding for us to see Ryan and Dylan pass their exam and develop such an interest in it. We've already had some enquiries from other youngsters since and are hoping that more will want to take it up in the future."
Newbattle Abbey runs a six-week beekeeping for beginners course every spring. In the college's apiary, students learn about honeybee reproduction, honey and the role of beekeepers, as well as the impact bees have on the environment. They also learn how to harvest honey and put together wax frames for the hives.