It is reasonably common knowledge that Sir Winston Churchill was a big butterfly aficionado, stemming from his time spent in Bangalore during the First World War. He even began raising and releasing butterflies at Chartwell as he became increasingly concerned about the effects of agricultural pesticides on the natural population. A similar story reared it’s unpleasant head this year of course in relation to the effect that farming chemicals are having on our bees. The link between bees and Chartwell is less well documented but perhaps equally important especially in the current climate of heavy bee-related media coverage.
Around 1934 Churchill and his wife Clementine became very interested in bee keeping at Chartwell. Clemmie had been a member of the Kent Bee Keepers’ Association for several years and it was her who dived in with the greater enthusiasm. She got all the advice she could get from a Mr Sewell in Theydon Bois and then in turn passed that knowledge on to Albert Hill, one of the gardeners here at the time, putting him in charge of her precious bees. Sir Winston himself even ensured that the sugar ration for bee keepers wasn’t cut during the WWII by sending stern letters to both Robert Hudson, the Minister of Agriculture and Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food! Once the war was over, Churchill entrusted the job of bringing the Chartwell bee hives back into production to a couple of German POW’s who also worked for Churchill around the estate at this time.
We are lucky to have four very keen bee keepers amongst our volunteers here at Chartwell today. I hope to produce some blogs throughout next year discussing what is happening with our colonies but for now I’ll hand over to one of those volunteers, Alan Berridge, to sum up what has gone on during the last twelve months or so…
“This is our third year of operation. It has been a turbulent season. Our three overwintered colonies from 2012, despite the late spring, built up their individual strengths and then presented us with a series of summer ‘swarms’. Swarming is a natural process in the expansion of bee colonies. After much effort the team managed to control the energy of our bees. The apiary now amounts to five colonies having passed on a further two. After Winter the plan is to reduce to four, and with more equipment, seek to manage their future. We will keep you advised of how our work progresses.
Beekeeper numbers need an increase to build a larger and more experienced team. This year two of our beekeepers, sponsored by the National Trust, passed the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) Basic Assessment. All four members of our team now have this level of proficiency. Beekeeping is not an exact craft and any such development is invaluable.
The debate about the future of the honey bee and mankind continues. After the colony collapses, particularly in the States in 2006, informed authorities advise that the number of managed colonies around the world has returned to previous levels. Whether it is bees, birds or any other living creature, man has a significant influence over wildlife and its prosperity. At Chartwell we are doing our small bit to help such wildlife prosper.
At the end of the 2013 beekeeping season at Chartwell our beekeepers are offering for sale this year’s honey crop. Please come and see us at the Chartwell Christmas Market on 29th/30th November and 1st December. We thank all our visitors who have viewed the kitchen garden apiary and shown so much interest in this project. Chartwell is a particularly good environment for the bees to forage. It does seem that the bumble bee in recent years is sharing the patch with the honey bees. Whoever is providing the pollination we have enjoyed a much better crop in our orchards than recent years.
Thanks Alan. I’m told that this year’s honey harvest is particularly sweet with a slight citrus taste. I can’t wait to try some! Before I sign off for another week, I should also point out that anyone who does make it to this year’s Chartwell Christmas Market should also look out for the 2014 Chartwell Garden Calendar on sale, which I helped to produce with great help from all of our visitors who submitted photographs for inclusion inside it. You can find out more info about our exciting new calendar by clicking here and if you can’t make it down here in person you can always purchase one from our online shop by clicking here!
Right, time to buzz off…