The relationship between farmers and beekeepers is a vital one. In the UK around 70 of the crops grown are dependent on, or benefit from visits from bees, a value which is estimated at over £200 million per year.
While the importance of bees to UK agriculture is profound, it has not always been straightforward for farmers and beekeepers to communicate directly with each other. However, a new service – BeeConnected – launched nationwide on the 12th September aims to address this issue by digitalising the process of farmers informing beekeepers of their intention to spray an insecticide.
The project is being led by The Voluntary Initiative (VI) and Chairman Richard Butler says BeeConnected has been designed to work quickly and efficiently for farmers and beekeepers alike. He says:
“BeeConnected operates on a very simple, yet efficient, two-way process whereby farmers identify their fields and, in just a few clicks, are able to inform local beekeepers when they intend to spray an insecticide in particular fields. Beekeepers plot the location of their hives, and will then receive a notification ahead of when a farmer within their locality is planning to undertake a spray event.”
A two-way process
The launch of BeeConnected follows a successful pilot which took place in Hertfordshire during the spring spraying season. Andrew Watts, a farmer with 2250 hectares of combinable crops and grassland in North East Hertfordshire, was one of the participants in the trial. He emphasises that BeeConnected is a useful tool when it comes to improving how both farmers and beekeepers interact.
“The countryside is a shared place, and beekeepers need farmers as much as farmers need beekeepers. It’s a two-way process, and anything that improves the communication there – as BeeConnected does – is a good thing.”
Mr Watts has always had a good relationship with both his Spray Liaison Officer (SLO) and the local beekeepers, but emphasises that these relationships have been built on strong communication and mutual understanding:
“It doesn’t happen overnight; you have to work at it. And we do what we can to help. For example, bees are early risers, but they’re early to bed too. So when we spray our beans for bruchid beetle, we tend to spray late in the evening.”
Improving communication is also a key benefit of BeeConnected for Mat Smith, a beekeeper based in Bishop’s Stortford. During the pilot he noted that the website was a big improvement on the SLO system of communication.
“The current SLO system isn’t always effective,” he says, “The BeeConnected website is an excellent tool that can improve both bee health and relations between beekeepers and farmers.
“Honey bees are hugely beneficial to both their keepers, farmers and the larger population as a whole, and open communication between farmers and beekeepers can only be a good thing.”
And for Mr Smith, who tends to three hives in his garden, the website proved to be a success in this regard.
“It was very easy to set up, and the alerts came through in time for me to take action to protect my bees,” he concludes, “I can’t think of any reason for beekeepers not to use this service!”
During the development of the project the VI worked closely with the National Farmers Union (NFU), the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) who were responsible for the initial BeeConnected proposal, and the Crop Protection Association (CPA), who funded the development of the site.
Mr Butler adds: “This is a great opportunity for all farmers and beekeepers nationwide to improve their communications, for a mutual benefit. We encourage all farmers and beekeepers to make full use of the site and register by visiting www.beeconnected.org.uk.”