Skipton’s medieval High Corn Mill is at the centre of a new initiative to re-establish a rare breed of Yorkshire bees locally.
Landlord Andrew Mear, who has long run his West Yorkshire property portfolio with the environment in mind, is joining forces Harry Brow of BespokeBees of Greenwood Apiary in Addingham.
Two hives have just been installed at the historic mill, with a view to increasing the number of near native Yorkshire Black Bees in the area, increasing local pollination rates and providing an exclusive local honey.
Harry himself first became inspired by bees when he was working in Brisbane, Australia in 2017 and spent part of his time helping out on a bee farm. He returned with a passion to save local strains of endangered species, taking a bee-centred management approach which aims to protect the natural cycle of the honeybee, enabling a healthy colony to produce a small batch of raw, natural honey - straight from hive to jar.
He now focuses on providing geographically isolated beehives to locations around the Wharfe and Nidderdale valleys, including the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s hives in the walled garden at Bolton Abbey.
Harry says: “Andrew approached me when he heard of the sustainable approach I take to bee keeping which doesn’t go down the traditional route. I don’t use any treatments or chemicals and allow the bees to live freely and swarm in natural cycles. High Corn Mill’s bees will never be fed sugar syrup or bakers fondant and we wouldn’t dream of marking Queens or clipping their wings. It’s a less profitable way of managing bees but far more
conducive to re-establishing the strain around the area.
“We've created a small apiary by the side of the mill near the old waterwheel to house the bees – an endangered strain we can trace back in the valley for over 75 years. I like to think of the way we work as the ‘rewilding’ approach to bee keeping and it works perfectly with the ethos of High Corn Mill which has become something of a wellbeing hub in the area. The aim is to spread the genetic strain of these rare bees across the area.
"Within the UK, there are around 250 solitary bee species, 25 bumble bee varieties and one type of Honeybee, Apis Mellifera. Unfortunately, all of these species are under threat from monoculture, intensive farming, nutritional stresses and pesticides and they're all in need of our care and attention.
“We have installed two traditional, restored red cedar hives and the revenue from this project will support our work as one of the only apiaries in the UK to operate log hives, hollowed out fallen trees to enable natural comb creation. These bees are not aggressive so visitors to the mill won’t even know they are there. They will swarm in trees in the nearby woodland and fly around a three-mile radius collecting nectar and pollen.
“The honey they produce will be unique as they will collect from a wide variety of local botanicals – everything from hawthorn and horse chestnut to raspberry, blackberry, dandelion, rosebay willowherb and cross-leaved heather.
“We anticipate that they will produce around 40kg of honey a year, half of which will remain in the hives to nourish the bees and the other half – a Skipton woodland honey – will go on sale at the mill, probably from next year. In the meantime, I’ll be supplying the mill with honey from my 35-hive apiary, so visitors to the mill will be able to get a taste of what’s to come.”
Andrew Mear added: “We’re incredibly excited about this new project which is based on a shared ethos and will increase pollination services in the area as well as provide one of the purest honeys is it possible to buy.”