July 2010 - School is a hive of activity

A colony of bees is the latest addition to the classroom at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. Around 10,000 bees arrived in June and the colony is building up towards the 50-60,000 that would normally reside in a single hive. Pupils at the School will be caring for the bees which will play an important part in teaching about science, food technology and maths. They are also classified as ‘livestock’ on the BTEC Countryside and Environment Course.

It is widely known that bees around the world have suffered from ‘colony collapse’ when bees inexplicably disappear from hives. By introducing bees to Gatton Park, the School hopes to play a part in helping to stop the decline in the bee population in England. The bees are important because they pollinate plants and this is most noticeable when the bees are not there. Last year one of the best apple trees in Gatton Park failed to produce fruit because the flowers were not pollinated. By introducing bees it is hoped that the orchards will produce the maximum amount of fruit.

As you would expect at a school, measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of pupils. The hive is situated in Gatton Park, well away from school buildings. A full risk assessment has been carried out and pupils have a safety talk before visiting the hive. Anyone who goes near the bees is dressed in a protective ‘bee suit’, with gloves, boots and veil. There is a ‘bee sting plan’, (devised in consultation with the School’s Health Centre) which comes into play if anyone gets stung. So far no pupils have been stung.

Compared with other livestock that are cared for by pupils (e.g. pigs, goats, chickens and horses), bees are relatively low maintenance. Beekeepers need to visit the hive once a week to make sure there are no problems and also to check for queen cells. If there is more than one queen, there is a likelihood that the bees will ‘swarm’ with over half leaving the hive to find a new home and this will reduce the amount of honey the remaining bees produce.

A single bee hive can produce 150-200lbs of honey a year which will fill 150-200 jars. As part of the BTEC course students will learn not only about beekeeping, but also about marketing and selling the produce.

Mr Bob Greenhalgh, Land Studies Teacher says, “We have a variety of livestock at the school so that pupils can gain experience of working with different animals. This is good for the older children studying Countryside and Environment and also the younger pupils who now have a much better idea about where food comes from. The bees will be important in the pollination of plants including those on the allotments that are maintained by pupils.”

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