Summertime Activity

This blog has been rather quiet this summer, but of course the bees have not been idle, and neither has the Beekeeping Society! In fact, we’ve had one of our busiest summers yet. Here’s a quick round-up of what we’ve been up to in the last few months.

Observation hive

Thanks to a generous grant from the Sustainable Projects Fund, we were able to add an “observation hive” to the Connaught House roof. The new hive is a national hive (a slightly different design from our other hives which are WBC hives), but more importantly, it has an observation window made of Perspex, which allows us a fascinating glimpse into the secret lives of bees. The observation hive will be particularly useful in winter: we can observe the bees’ activities without the need to disturb them by opening the hive.

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Slovenian royalty

We needed a new queen bee to populate the observation hive, and Luke procured one from a breeder in Slovenia, a.k.a. beekeeping capital of the world. Believe it or not, the queen came by post! She arrived in a ‘queen introduction cage’ (pictured below), attended by two worker bees to groom and feed her. The cage has a plug of sugar candy, which takes the bees a few days to eat through. This delays the release of the queen into the new colony, giving the other bees enough time to get used to her scent and reducing the likelihood that the bees will attack and kill the alien queen.

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New suits!

The Sustainable Projects Fund grant also allowed us to buy new protective suits (which we needed because our society is growing as fast as our bee colonies!) Here is Laura (MSc Gender, Policy and Inequalities) modelling one of the new suits.

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Rooftop gardening session

With urban beekeeping becoming increasingly popular, there are more and more beehives in Central London, but what bees really need is more sources of nectar and pollen. So in April we had a gardening session where volunteers from the society got together to dig up the dead annuals and plant bee-friendly plants.

The new plants are doing really well; we just need to remember to water them in the current hot and dry weather! One of the prettiest planters (top left) is one we left untended – it’s now a riot of wildflowers.

Carpentry workshop

Beekeeping requires many different skills! Besides gardening, we also had to do a spot of carpentry, to hammer together some new roofs for our hives (our existing roofs are nearly 5 years old and starting to show signs of wear).

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Kew Gardens trip

Every year John Fry (an LSE alumnus and an avid beekeeper who now lives in Virginia, USA) sends us a cheque for beekeeping expenses. Generally we use it for equipment and repairs, but this year, we decided to do something different. At the end of May we organised a Society trip to Kew Gardens, and John’s generous donation allowed us to pay £10 towards the cost of each ticket (so members only had to pay £3 each).

Of course, the Hive installation was at the top of our list of things to see, but equally interesting were the Fascinating Flowers tour (where we learned about other pollinators like exotic insects, bats and hummingbirds, as well as the bizarre and ingenious strategies plants use to attract them) and the Solitary Bees talk and tour run by an entomologist from the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (where we learned to identify some common species of bumblebees and solitary bees).

100+ members

This year our society crossed one hundred members, which is quite incredible for such a niche society. Many of them were highly engaged and active, enthusiastically participating in events and volunteering their time to look after the bees. Several members of staff signed up (and we even interviewed one of them). We had members joining right up until the end of Summer Term!

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Solitary bee nest box

Lastly, a grant from the Sustainable Projects Fund also enabled us to buy a Solitary Bee Nest Box, and it has just arrived in the post! In a future blogpost we will talk about the great diversity of solitary bees (did you know that honey bees and bumblebees make up only about 25 of the 250 species of bee in the UK, with the rest being solitary bees?) and the urgent need to protect them. For now, we are extremely excited about installing the nest box in Passfield Hall and seeing what kind of bees it attracts.

LBKA Introduction to Beekeeping Course

MatthewThis year we were able to part-sponsor one of our members to take the London Beekeepers’ Association’s Introduction to Beekeeping course. The lucky member, Matthew Bedford, is a second year student of Criminology and Social Policy. In this guest post, he shares his experience and some of his photos. Props to Matthew for attending the course on crutches (having recently dislocated his knee), not to mention in the middle of exams!

Following a fantastic opportunity provided by the LSESU Beekeeping Society, I had the chance to participate in the LBKA ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course on the 6th and 7th of May. I can safely say that it was one of the most interesting and fascinating experiences of my life.

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A healthy frame (photo credit: Matthew Bedford)

The weekend began with informative lectures in the morning, providing me with great insight into the life of a beekeeper. I learnt more than I could have ever hoped for; I even forgot that I had exams for a brief moment! What really captured my attention was the practical work though: on both days we visited the numerous hives around St. Paul’s Church (Clapham) where we saw these little pollinators hard at work. We even got to see a couple queen bees! I was fortunate enough to have picked the lucky group on the first day and witnessed a swarm in action; we then captured and homed this swarm, and began a new colony.

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The swarm (photo credit: Matthew Bedford)

I’m really grateful for the society for subsidising this course and I hope that more people are able to join next year as it was quite literally the Bee’s Knees!

LSE Bees in Green Week

Honey sticks, football-playing bees, a hive visit for LSE staff – these are just a few of the things we had lined up for LSE Green Week.

How Bees Learn from Each Other: Talk by Prof Lars Chittka (1 March)

The most eagerly-anticipated event of the week was a talk by Prof Lars Chittka on How Bees Learn from Each Other. Prof Chittka is Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at QMUL and one of the world’s foremost experts on bee behaviour. He and his team have variously attached ‘licence plates’ to bees, studied whether bumblebees have ‘personalities’ and even investigated whether caffeine boosts bees’ memories.

The timing of his talk was highly fortuitous, coming just a week after his study on football-playing bees was published in Science, receiving widespread media coverage.

LSE Honey Sale (1 March)

LSE Bees had their own stall in front of the Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, where we sold off our last few jars of honey and spread awareness about the importance of pollinators.

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Apiary Open Days (1 & 2 March)

Our hive visits are usually restricted to society members only, but what better time than LSE Green Week to have an Apiary Open Day? In fact, we had not one but two open days – one for students and one for staff. The staff open day was particularly popular: the 30 available spaces got booked out within hours of being announced on the staff newsletter and their enthusiasm was rewarded with bright sunshine which meant active bees. Best of all, some of the first-time visitors liked it enough that they joined our society, so we will be seeing a lot more of them in the near future!

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Interview with Dr Delphine Bénézet: the first staff member of our Society!

A little-known fact: the LSESU Beekeeping Society is open not just to students but also members of staff! Dr Delphine Bénézet recently became the first staff member of our Society, to add to the 90-odd student members we already have. In this interview she talks about the best and worst parts of her job, her love of cinema, and the magical experience of being amongst the bees on the LSE rooftop.

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Would you tell us a little bit about your role at LSE?

I have been working in the Academic Partnerships division for two years. We coordinate and support a range of activities between the LSE and a number of institutional partners across the globe. These include summer school programmes in Beijing and Cape Town, double degrees, PhD mobility exchanges and collaborative research activities.

What are the best (and worst) parts of your job?

Until recently my job focused on the two summer programmes we have in South Africa and China, so one of the highlights of 2016 for me was to go to Cape Town last July. It was wonderful to see all our hard work come to fruition on site, and to hear about the opportunities the programme opened to our participants afterwards. The worst part of my job? That’s a hard question, the most frustrating part is certainly to see so many smart and able applicants who cannot find any scholarship to finance their project. This is when I wish I had a magic wand, or bottomless pockets!

How did you find out about LSE Bees, and why did you decide to sign up?

When I joined the London School of Economics, I looked at the SU website and remember being amazed at the number and diversity of societies offered! The beekeeping society immediately struck a chord mainly for two reasons. The first is that my grandfather (who owned a farm) had a number of hives but had never taken me along (in his defense he passed when I was quite young, had 20 other grandchildren, and lived 800km away), and the second is that I have always been interested in topics relating to sustainability and ecology.

And so far, has your (brief) experience with LSE Bees lived up to your expectations?

I have only visited the hive once since I joined LSE Bees but so far it’s been great! I did not have much hope when we visited the hives because it was so early in the year, but surprisingly we got to see bees flying around. It was a beautiful day and I felt really lucky to be able to escape from my desk and see these incredible creatures at work.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am an avid reader, a keen cook, and a bit of cinephile (I have written a book about the French filmaker Agnès Varda). So a perfect weekend would include a family hike, a meal with friends and a good movie at the BFI, ICA, or the Brixton Ritzy.

It’s great to have a staff member in a “student” society! Would you recommend LSE Bees to other members of staff, and do you have any suggestions for how we can get more staff members involved?

Funny that you mention this, I have already been preaching how special this society and its activities are to my colleagues! While my reasons to join the society are quite personal, I believe that nothing beats learning something different and meeting new people. Plus standing on the roof of Connaught House and watching a hive in full swing is both a magic and humbling experience! I know that some departments and services occasionally organise fundraising bake offs, how about one taking place across the school with one mandatory ingredient: honey?

How Bees Learn from Each Other

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Prof Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology at QMUL and one of the world’s foremost experts on bee behaviour, has kindly agreed to deliver a talk at LSE next week. Prof Chittka’s papers have been published in Nature, Science and other leading journals, and is regularly featured in the media (the Guardian, BBC and the New York Times, to name just a few).

This is no surprise because his research is truly fascinating. Prof Chittka and his team have variously tracked bees with radar, studied whether bumblebees have ‘personalities’ and even investigated whether caffeine boosts bees’ memories.

Next week’s talk will draw on a recent paper published in PLoS Biology, where the researchers discovered (SPOILER ALERT!) that bees can learn how to pull a string for food just by observing other bees, and can in turn pass this information to other bees in the colony. They argue that the way bees use simple mechanisms to achieve complex behaviours may help uncover the basic cognitive elements required for culture.

So join us next week to learn more about bees and their fascinating (and frankly adorable) behaviour. And maybe get some ideas on how humans can learn from each other!

Event details
Date: Wednesday 1 March 2017
Time: 5:00-6:00 pm
Venue: LSE Clement House, CLM 3.04
This is a free event, open to LSE staff and students only.

Beekeeping 101 and Bee Library

Last week was Reading Week at LSE, so what better time to inaugurate our all-new bee library!

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We also had a Beekeeping 101 talk by Luke Dixon, a professional beekeeper who helps us look after our rooftop hives (bonus points if you can spot his book in the pic above!)

The audience ranged from people who have kept bees for years to new members who have never even seen a beehive in real life (something which will hopefully change at our next hive visit!) Despite the wide variation, Luke – who in addition to being very knowledgeable about bees, is also a highly entertaining speaker – had everyone engrossed from start to finish.

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