Did you know there are beehives on the London School of Economics campus, right in the middle of Central London?! Welcome to the official blog of the LSESU Beekeeping Society!
LSE Bees is run by the LSE Estates Division Sustainability team, in partnership with our Society. The initiative began in 2011 out of an LSE Sustainable Projects Fund grant, and has also received support from the Annual Fund and Activities Fund.
We work with a professional beekeeper, Dr Luke Dixon of Urban & Community Beekeeping, to maintain and develop our hives on the roof of Connaught House. We also harvest and sell LSE honey (pictured below), spread awareness about bees, and organise events like honey tasting, field trips, and bake sales. In addition to honey bees, we have recently stepped up our efforts to support ‘wild bees’ such as bumblebees and solitary bees, many of which are more threatened than honey bees.
How can I get involved?
If you’re an LSE student or staff member, consider joining the LSESU Beekeeping Society. It’s just £1.50 for a whole year’s membership. We use the money to buy necessary supplies such as protective suits (for us) and winter feed (for the bees). You can join at any time; your membership will be valid till the end of the current academic year.
Our society has over 90 members, including both students and staff! Membership has lots of benefits; former president Amelia Sharman called it “the best £1.50 I ever spent”. Here are 10 good reasons to sign up.
If you’re not from LSE – or if you think membership is not for you – you can sign up to the Friends of LSE Bees mailing list to receive our newsletters (2–3 per year, no spam!) You can also follow us on this blog, on our Facebook page and Twitter.
Will I get stung?
Chances of being stung are very remote. We work under the guidance of a professional beekeeper, and we have protective suits which you can borrow. In the unlikely event that you do get stung, we have first-aid equipment on hand. And if you are truly apiphobic, you can observe from far away, or join our many other events like honey tasting, field trips, and bake sales.
Do I need to have any prior beekeeping experience to join?
None at all! Most of us had zero experience with bees before we joined the society, but if you attend hive visits regularly, by the end of the year you’ll be inspecting hives and harvesting honey like a pro.
When and where do you meet?
We meet on Wednesdays at 3 pm on the roof of Connaught House – take the lift to level 8, then walk up the last flight of stairs. Here’s a map to help you find us. We meet every week in spring and summer, and less frequently (fortnightly or monthly) in autumn and winter. Society members get notifications about our next hive visit via email. Hive visits are not compulsory so there’s no commitment, but the more you come, the more you learn about bees and beekeeping!
I’m not free on Wednesday afternoons. Do you meet at any other time?
Most of our hive visits are on Wednesday afternoons, but sometimes we have to reschedule due to weather or other factors. However some of our other events, like the honey tasting and sale, take place on other days of the week.
Where can I buy LSE Honey?
We harvest honey every year in late summer. Ours is a small operation (3 hives) and we harvest a small amount from only 1–2 hives to ensure the bees have plenty left over to see them through winter. So we usually get about 80–100 jars each year.
If you’re a Society member, you will get an email when the honey is available for purchase (usually around October–November). After that, if there are any jars left over, we offer them to other students and staff of LSE (we advertise this on our blog and Facebook page, but it sells out very quickly!)
Society members also get to taste the honey for free at our tasting events.
Where does the honey come from?
The honey comes wholly from our hives on the roof of Connaught House in Central London. It is about as local as it gets!
What does it taste like?
Some commercially available honey is monofloral, i.e. predominantly from the nectar of one plant species. We have nothing against ethically-produced monofloral honey (in fact there are some varieties we like a lot!) but our own bees are free to fly around London and pick what flowers they want to forage on, which gives the honey an interesting, complex flavour (‘polyfloral’, in beekeeping parlance). Having said that, due to the abundance of lime trees in Central London, our honey has light, citrusy notes.
Most varieties of supermarket honey are also ‘blended’ (i.e. comes from hives all over the world) whereas all our honey comes from the same three Central London hives.
Where do the bees forage?
The typical foraging distance for European honey bees is believed to be around 3 km, though Beekman and Ratnieks (2000) found bees routinely flying over 6 km and sometimes over 10 km from their hives. But even with a conservative 3 km estimate, as you can see from the map below, our bees can collect nectar from as far afield as St James’s Park, Green Park, Regent’s Park and even Hyde Park.
Is the honey ethically produced?
Absolutely. This is what our professional beekeeper, Dr Luke Dixon, has to say:
We don’t keep bees to be producers of honey, though we do harvest a sustainable amount from strong colonies. Primarily the purpose of our beekeeping is to support the declining pollinator population and the richness of biodiversity in the city. At all times we follow current best practice and advice from the National Bee Unit.
Do pollution and traffic fumes affect the quality of urban honey?
On the contrary, it is likely that urban bees make better honey! The European Environment Agency confirms that ‘city traffic fumes and pollution do not harm the bees or their honey’ because in the process of converting nectar to honey, the bees filter out heavy metals and other pollutants. A study by a French beekeepers’ association found that bees reared in cities are healthier and more productive than their country cousins, largely due to the use of pesticides and monoculture which are both more prevalent in the countryside. However, this does not mean that there are no downsides to urban beekeeping: a 2013 study found that traffic fumes can affect bees ability to find food.
My honey has crystallised, what should I do?!
Don’t worry, crystallisation is entirely normal and does not mean the honey has gone bad. Decrystallising it is very simple; we have a detailed post (with pics) which shows you what to do.