Gazette & Herald Column: Don't worry, bee happy is an MP's new way to relax

Even the busiest MP has to slow down sometimes, and one of the most calming things I have ever done is to become a bee keeper.  The excitement of seeing the colonies survive the winter, the fascination of watching worker bees flying in with neatly packed pollen sacs for the baby bees, and the occasional opening of the hives to check that all is well and Queenie is laying, has totally absorbed us for over a year now.  Last weekend we were able to extract some honey for the first time, and as we decapped and span, I reflected on a fact I had heard suggesting that if we paid bees minimum wages, each jar of honey would cost over £100,000!  The few pounds of golden liquid that we collected seemed like a “steal”, and the angry bees who spent Sunday dive bombing us when we went near the hive certainly seemed to think so!  We have left them ample supplies so they should calm down but we shall savour every spoonful this year and should have some to share – I promised the first jar to BBC Wiltshire a year ago so I have some orders to deliver.

I’m not the only bee-keeper in Parliament, and I know locally how much we all value the work of pollinators, which is why I have been so pleased to see that protecting our pollinators is a priority for this Government.  With over 1,500 species of insects that pollinate plants in the UK, including 26 species of bumble bee, it has never been more important to build on the success of the previous initiatives like the Healthy Bees Plan and National Pollinator Strategy.  I was also pleased that, following growing scientific evidence that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and pollinators, the European Commission have restricted the use of three neonicotinoids, and this will be preserved in UK law after we leave the EU.

We also have great government funded help and support for beekeepers like me, with superb National Bee Unit inspectors who monitor bee health, treat colonies for pests and diseases, and promote healthy beekeeping, and it is great to see so many new beekeepers venturing into this area.  But we can all do our bit by looking out for locally produced UK honey, planting wildflowers or simply leaving grass uncut – bees love dandelions!  Finally, if you do see a swarm, don’t panic – someone would love to offer those bees a permanent home and if you search for “swarms Wiltshire” the internet will guide you to lots of local beekeepers who can help.