Author Thomas Simpson
Assistant People and Wildlife Officer
Gatwick Airport has always been a hive of activity but some new arrivals on-site have taken the meaning to a whole new level.
We were delighted to move three hives of honey bees (Apis mellifera) onto one of Gatwick Airport's conservation areas this week.
The honey bee is famous worldwide both for its vital role in the pollination of flowering plants and (some would argue) its even more important role in providing us with something sweet and sticky to spread on our toast.
In recent years, however, honey bees have been making headlines for the wrong reasons. Issues such as the increased prevalence of diseases and parasites, changing weather conditions and a decrease in the uptake of beekeeping have all contributed to a species in steady decline. What better way, we thought, for Gatwick Greenspace Partnership to enhance our local biodiversity and raise the profile of a nationally important species than setting up some beehives?
We contacted the Central Sussex Beekeeping Association and were quickly put in touch with Gillian Sentinella, an experienced beekeeper based in nearby Horley, who was looking to re-site a few hives from a colony fast outgrowing its current position in a small garden.
Deciding where to place our new visitors was to be an important decision. The first two sites we had selected proved to be too inaccessible for making the regular checks needed throughout the summer. Instead we settled for a site in Ashley’s Field that provided plenty of nearby forage and an easy route in for the beekeepers.
With the site having been lovingly prepared with the help of Gatwick Greenspace’s fantastic volunteers, the hives went straight into place. A normal colony in winter is made up of a queen and some 10 to 15,000 workers. We opened the hives and quickly took cover!
Instead of an angry swarm enraged by our intrusion, we watched as the bees began to slowly emerge and take a few circling flights before returning to the safety of the hive. This tentative orientation flight is a good sign that they will settle into their new location.
Bees orientate themselves to their new homes by sight; using landforms, trees and vegetation as well as the hives themselves. The next time they fly out they will return to the exact position of the hive entrance.
This summer the colony will swell to 40 to 50 thousand workers, a single queen and few hundred male bees known as drones. I’m looking forward to opening up the hives during the next couple of weeks to see how our new workforce is settling in. Stay tuned in for the latest buzz about the Great GatsBees!
Catch up with how the bees have settled in on the Gatwick Greenspace's Facebook page