2020 honey monitoring scheme... the results are in

Honey bee on bramble flower

The National Honey Monitoring Scheme states "Both honey bees and wild bees have suffered declines in recent years. These are thought to be linked to agricultural intensification, including pesticide use and loss of habitats/ floral resources, as well as the emergence of new diseases and climate change. Their sensitivity to the way we manage land in the UK has long been a cause for concern. However, this same sensitivity makes honeybees ideal for monitoring changes in the countryside over time and at a national scale - due to the large distances over which honey bees forage, often traveling many kilometres from their hives. The honey collected by honey bees contains incredibly valuable information on the state of the landscape the bees live in and environmental pressures they are exposed to."

I first heard about this scheme from a fellow beekeeper a couple of years ago. And in 2020 I sent in the first sample to be analysed from my apiary in Budleigh Salterton, Devon from capped honey taken from the hive in August.

The predominant forage that my honey bees are visiting in the summer is the bramble where there is an abundance. Bees will travel up to a 3 miles radius of their home in order to gather nectar and pollen to bring back to their hive. I wasn't surprised to see bell heather and gorse in the list but was surprised that they were 6th, 11th and 15th in the list, given the apiary is close to Woodbury Common.

This list reveals that the bees prefer to forage other nectar producing flowers. Just because they are on their doorstep, doesn't mean that is what they choose. How do they decide? It's the flying bees that go out to find what's available. They come back and do a waggle dance inside the hive. The colony works as one and it's a joint decision as to where they will go and forage. Bees are very loyal to that plant and will only bring back nectar or pollen from that source until it is depleted. So the waggle dance goes on for another source.

I wasn't expecting to see a fair number of brassicas in the list. What an eye opener!

Species scientific name Common name
Rubus Bramble
Ilex perado (Type of Holly)
Brassica oleracea Cabbage
Sambucus nigra Elder
Brassica rapa Turnip
Erica cinerea Bell Heather
Trifolium repens White Clover
Rubus silvaticus Wood Bramble
Acer pseudoplatanus Sycamore
Ulex europaeus Gorse
Ranunculus bulbosus Bulbous Buttercup
Oenanthe crocata Hemlock Water-dropwort
Ligustrum ovalifolium Garden Privet
Ulex gallii Western Gorse
Raphanus sativus Garden Radish
Impatiens glandulifera Indian Balsam
Calluna vulgaris Heather
Brassica juncea Chinese Mustard
Brassicaceae Crucifer
Brassica nigra Black Mustard
Ceanothus oliganthus Hairy Ceanothus
Bellis perennis Daisy
Populus Poplar
Quercus ilex Evergreen Oak
Ranunculus turneri  
Myosotis sylvatica Wood Forget-me-not
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Brassica napus Rapeseed
Trifolium incarnatum Crimson Clover
Prunus lusitanica Portugal Laurel
Sambucus Elder
Rubus plicatus Plaited-leaved Bramble
Chamerion angustifolium Rosebay Willowherb
Erica tetralix Cross-leaved Heath
Heracleum sphondylium Hogweed
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana Lawson's Cypress
Rubus montanus (Type of Bramble)

In total, 39 varieties of taxa were found in the sample, 97% of which were in the top 15 shown in the table above and were determined by the quantity of DNA fragments found in the sample.