Not even a global pandemic could stop up-and-coming local beekeeping enthusiasts from earning their stripes whilst staying safe at home during the past year.
The rookie beekeepers are literally buzzing to have completed their Preliminary Beekeeping Course despite the challenges of lockdown when Mid Ulster Beekeepers Association (MUBKA) had to switch their classes online whilst restrictions were in place to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
Dungannon’s Annaginny Park, which is ‘home’ to MUBKA, was a hive of activity recently when the Association presented certificates to a group of dedicated students who included participants recruited by SGN Natural Gas as part of the company’s biodiversity projects in the network.
Charlene Abraham, Secretary of MUBKA, explained how after getting off to a “flying start” last year, both the tutors and students had to move online: “2020 was the first time we ran the Preliminary Beekeeping Course through our own club. We had a great deal of interest as we are a very central location in Mid Ulster with students from Dungannon, Omagh, Cookstown, Magherafelt and Tobermore areas to name but a few.”
“We got off to a flying start, in a state-of-the-art classroom in Loughry College where we were able to set up a vast range of beekeeping equipment for the students and talk through our presentations on all manner of topics from best places to site your own apiary to pests and diseases and some bee biology. Unfortunately, the pandemic brought those proceedings to a close, however 32 students completed their preliminary beekeeping theory exam online and when the world opened up a little and the weather allowed, they completed the practical part of the course by opening a real live beehive.”
Charlene and her father Alan Abraham, the Chairperson of MUBKA are both passionate local beekeepers based in Dungannon and they really enjoyed delivering the course together. She said: “Sharing our passion for beekeeping with all these new faces was a dream come true. We managed to successfully schedule our weekly meetings to finish the course online, but it is hard to beat real-life interaction and seeing a piece of equipment such as the set-up of a hive.”
“With all the regulations it was very difficult to complete the practical part of the course which was postponed until 2021 when we were allowed to meet up outside in small groups. We worked closely with CAFRE and the Ulster Beekeepers Association (UBKA) to deliver the course, both organisations were a great help to us. Our students passed both their theory and practical exams which was a great achievement for everyone. Some of the students had their own bees, so we completed the practical assessments at their own hives which was really nice to see everyone’s different set-ups.”
It’s all clearly a labour of love for lifelong beekeeper Charlene. She added: “The most rewarding part of being a beekeeper is to walk past the hives and notice that yes those bees are busy bringing in nectar, pollen, water and propolis. Keeping bees and planting for bees is helping to sustain a key species which in turn provides so much for the human race; bees and other pollinators are the reason we have such a variety of plants, trees and food crops to eat.”
Charlene concluded: “The preliminary course provides a really good starting point for your beekeeping journey and to be successful in that first year. You learn not only what it is like to open a hive and have all those little faces looking up at you, but you also meet experienced beekeepers through joining the Association who are always glad to help. They were once novices too, and could still claim to be, because every time you open a hive you learn something new.”
Dominic Scullion, Safety, Health and Environment Manager with SGN Natural Gas, was one of a dozen novices who completed the beekeeping course supported by Northern Ireland’s newest gas operator as part of its biodiversity projects. These include the ‘Plan Bee’ initiative for sustainable community-led beekeeping and the planting of almost 7,000 native trees in the network by the end of 2021.
Dominic said: “We had to do a theory exam and finally a practical exam on handling the bees, hives and all the equipment. COVID-19 came in the middle of the course, therefore everything was stalled for about a year, but Charlene and Alan held revision classes over Zoom which were very helpful.”
“Prior to completing the course I didn’t really appreciate how complex beekeeping could be with the different types of bees, how they communicate and develop their colonies. By planting pollinators, companies like SGN Natural Gas can help sustain the bee population and improve the biodiversity for the environments in which they work.”
For more information, please visit sgnnaturalgas.co.uk