This interview is our personal homage to Amelia Sharman, who has been a pillar of the LSE SU Beekeeping Society for 3 years and who has left the LSE recently to put her PhD in Environmental Policy and Development to good use as Principal Climate Mitigation Consultant at Amec Foster Wheeler.
Throughout her time at the society, she has been an extraordinary mobilizer and promoter of LSE Bees. During the 3 years that she was part of it, the society has thrived and incredibly increased its visibility, notably through the annual Honey Festivals, film screenings, a hive-painting competition and a strong presence on social media!
Everyone who met her on the roof of Connaught House will remember her infectious enthusiasm for all things bee-related and her extraordinary talent for story-telling. Thank you Amelia for sharing your passion, your energy and your knowledge, and we’re looking forward to seeing you again soon on the roof of Connaught House!
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Interview with Amelia Sharman
How long have you been a member of the LSE SU Beekeeping Society?
I joined the LSE SU Beekeeping Society in the spring of 2012, so was a member for about three and a half years.
What motivated you to initially join the Society? Were you already into beekeeping as a hobby?
I found out about the society through a ‘Give it a Go’ event where people who were interested could come up to the roof of Connaught House and check out the hives. I’d always thought that beekeeping would be a really fascinating thing to become involved with, although before that point I’d never encountered a hive up close. I was a complete novice! But the possibility to learn by doing, as well as the infectious passion that Luke (LSE Bees’ professional beekeeper) and the other members of the society showed made me sign up on the spot.
What positions/responsibilities have you had within the Society?
I was President for the 2012/13 academic year, Communications Officer for 2013/14, and finally Treasurer for 2014/15.
What did you study at LSE?
I did a PhD in Environmental Policy and Development in the Geography and Environment Department, although I was based full-time at the Grantham Research Institute for Climate Change and the Environment (GRI). I think nearly every member of the GRI came to visit the hives over the years! My research looked at the controversy over climate change and how that influenced science and policy.
What are your hobbies/interests other than beekeeping?
I’m getting more into food at the moment, including growing my own vegetables and experimenting with all sorts of different recipes. Beekeeping has really opened my eyes to the pride and joy that comes from knowing exactly where your food comes from and how delicious it can taste. I also love travelling and am currently planning a trip to Iran next year.
Do you have a favourite among the five LSE hives?
My favourite hive would have to be the beautiful new cedar hive. I was successful in getting support from LSE’s Annual Fund in late 2012 to buy the hive, as well as the planter boxes and plants that are now also on the roof of Connaught House. It was a long project to get to fruition but it’s wonderful to see that hive doing so well and I think it will look so pretty as the red cedar turns silver over time. I’ll look forward to seeing photos on the blog!
What is the most fun thing you’ve done as part of the Society?
No question that would have to be the first honey bottling we did in 2014. It was absolutely brilliant to see the frames that we’d carefully tendered over the year release all their delicious honey and was such a fun night. I think what made it so special was how rewarding it felt to be so hands on and we all felt incredibly proud of what we’d achieved (with the help of the bees of course!). It was also really interesting to see the entire process of honey bottling as well as to learn things like how the wax is re-used in cosmetics. We tasted all sorts of other honey from around London and it was the first time it really sunk in just how unique all the different honeys can taste even if the hives are just around the corner from each other.
Have you ever been stung?
I wish I could tell you that I haven’t, but in July I was stung three times in one go – twice on the scalp and once on the arm. We were checking the painted hive and they were acting very aggressively (turns out the queen excluder wasn’t in place properly meaning the hive was in a bit of uproar). I hadn’t done my suit up properly and a bee got inside and stung me – and then once you’re stung you’re a magnet for more stings… I had a quite severe reaction (with so much swelling that my eye could barely open) so it was a good reminder for everyone not to be complacent!
Tell us a fun fact about bees?
This isn’t a fun fact per se, but something that I think is so interesting about bees is the way that you can think about the single bee as an independent organism, but that you can also think about the hive as a collective organism (or ‘superorganism’) as well. I think it’s absolutely fascinating how bees communicate (how do they all know exactly when/where to swarm for example??) and work together to produce something so precious. In that vein, I’ve just finished reading ‘The Bees’ by Laline Paull which such an excellent and imaginative reconceptualisation of the hive mind – I’d totally recommend it.
If any of our readers is considering whether to join the Society, what would your message be to them?
Join! It’s the best £1.50 I have ever spent. It was a brilliant thing to be involved with and something you’re unlikely to be able to do (for that price) once you leave university. I found it the perfect antidote to any stressful moments in my degree and I loved coming up to the roof to literally take a breather to do something so different and practical. I also met some really lovely people and got to do all sorts of things I would never have otherwise done (like my first TV interview!). Go on, you won’t regret it.
What (if anything) have you learnt from the bees?
I could list a million things, but I think the most important thing I learnt over my time with the LSE SU Beekeeping Society is just how important, yet how fragile and threatened, pollinators are to our planet and our way of life. Food doesn’t just come from the supermarket, it’s grown somewhere by someone, and we have a responsibility to think about how our decisions influence the ecosystems in which we live. We had a film screening of ‘More than Honey’ last year (ask the new exec committee to borrow the DVD) and the difference between our hives and the way bees are used in commercial agriculture was astonishing. I can’t imagine my life without beekeeping now and I’m looking forward to having my own hive one day. It was an absolute pleasure to be part of the society and I wish everyone involved (including the bees!) all the success in the world.