After 20 years of beekeeping – inspired, he says, by Sherlock Holmes’s decision to take it up in retirement – Tim Lovett remains as fascinated by bees as ever. “The more time you spend with bees, the more you get drawn into their amazing world: the way they organise themselves, control themselves, and what they’re responsible for,” he says.
“Just think about your breakfast; if there were no bees, there would be no orange juice on your table, there would be no jam, no honey. I’ve been to China, to Szechuan, where the bee population was wiped out, and you see men on ladders there using paintbrushes to pollinate the fruit trees. Can you imagine the cost of our food if we had to do that all ourselves? You’d only be able to afford half an olive on a pizza, and the mozzarella – which comes from cows raised on [bee-pollinated] alfalfa – would be absolutely prohibitive.”
For the last few years, Lovett and the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) have been successfully raising awareness of the dangers currently facing the UK’s honeybees. “We’re not facing the same losses as they’re seeing in the States, where some bee farms are losing 60-70% of their stock in one year. Here, we’re seeing a steady, incremental decline: 30% a couple of winters ago, 20% last year and 14% this year. That may seem to be improving, but in fact 14% is still a big loss. In a more typical year, you’d expect about 5% loss, maybe as much as 10%.”