AN estimated 76 per cent of food production and 84 per cent of plant species worldwide depend on pollination by bees.

According to Defra, there are approximately 40,000 UK beekeepers with more than 200,000 colonies of honeybees, each consisting of 20,000 to 60,000 bees and one queen.

The worker bees are female. As the name implies, they do all the work, and live for six weeks. A honeybee visits 50 to 100 flowers during each collection trip and can cover distances of four miles plus per day.

Brian Ripley enthuses about the benefits of beekeeping.

He said: “Bees are responsible for a lot of what we eat, such as apples, pears, plums, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes.

“In order to have variety in our diets, we need pollinators.

This also applies to farm crops that provide essential feeding for bees.

“It is essential to farmers as well as fruit-growers, that we maintain a strong bee population as pollinators are responsible for one out of three mouthfuls of food we eat.

“In the past few years, there has been a decline in pollinators and this includes butterflies and moths as well as bees, as a result of environmental factors, climate change and disease.”

Mr Ripley, a former chairman of the British Beekeeping Association and current vice-chairman of the Alnwick and District Beekeepers’ Association, is involved in helping raise awareness of the importance of bees, in order to educate and train the next generation of keepers.

There are an estimated 120 beekeepers in north Northumberland and more than 100 in the Newcastle District area alone, and Brian says more beekeepers are required throughout the region.

To help increase awareness, he ran a ten-week course last winter at Ashington High School Sports College.

He said: “The objective of beekeeping associations is to train and educate newcomers.

We need young as well as older people to get involved, learn new skills and develop their interest on a personal, as well as a business level.

“We also want farmers to get more involved or at least have a better understanding of the benefits of maintaining bees on their land.

“Farms have secure field margins and track verges – ideal for establishing colonies – and are combined with good access for beekeepers.

“We have a teaching apiary and interested people can come along and get practically involved and learn about keeping beehives.

Running the course during the winter is also beneficial. This allows more time for people to gear-up, learn and get involved.”

Several reasons have been given for the decline in bee populations, including the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, habitat and poor weather. Neonicotinoids were introduced in the 1990s and today, compromise 30 per cent by value of the global insecticide market.

Brian considers the effects of declining bee populations as a serious threat to farming and the environment.

He said: “European experts believe the use of neonicotinoids was having an impact on bee populations.

The British Beekeepers Association would prefer definitive proof on pesticides use, especially on neonicotinoids.

“There is now a ban at European level and experts should be able to provide conclusive evidence of any improvement in due course.

However, habitat is another concern and the link with weather conditions.

“Three of the past four summers have provided wet, inclement weather although 2013 was a good summer and 2014 is positive to date.”

Brian and beekeeping partner Jim Rogerson, who breeds the queen bees, keeps 50 colonies on six farms throughout north Northumberland, stretching from the Morpeth area to the Scottish Borders.

Honey varies in flavour and colour and is dependent on the flowers and crops the bees are fed on. This results in distinct local variation and the northern region is renowned for its wild heather honey and mixed flower varieties according to Brian.

He said: “The northern region offers a fantastic environment for beekeeping and resulting honey production.

There is a massive scope for new entrants as UK produced honey can only meet 20 per cent of domestic demand – the remaining 80 per cent is imported.

“I enjoy teaching people about bees and training newcomers to be future beekeepers.

We are all the custodians of the countryside and by having a healthy and growing bee population, farmers, visitors and the environment will reap the benefit.”

  • Information on beekeeping can be found at