Wonder of Bees with Martha Kearney (2014) s01e02 Episode Script

Episode 2

I'm Martha Kearney.
During the week I work as a journalist and presenter, but at the weekend, I keep bees.
Look at that, that's fantastic.
'I've been keeping bees in my garden for almost ten years.
'But I've never had any training and I'm far from expert.
' I just hope I don't get stung! 'This year, I am upping my game with help from master beekeeper 'John Everett.
' Here is a baby bee emerging.
Oh, wow! And from my friend and neighbour Jan Dryburgh.
Almost invariably, the bad-tempered bees produce the most honey.
I am keeping three colonies of bees on an old-fashioned meadow and trying to get them to produce British wildflower honey.
It is proving harder than I thought.
The poor thing, all the wings are completely distorted as if they are shrivelled-up bits of wing.
I have put three of my beehives on a neighbour's wildflower meadow, where I am hoping they will produce a bumper crop of honey.
But the season has got off to a poor start.
The strange thing about this year is, the spring was so late.
So it was a pretty difficult winter for the bees and it has meant that all the flowers that they need for nectar and for pollen, they are all coming out much later.
Since I was last here, the cherry tree has come into flower, the blackthorn is in blossom and the first of the meadow flowers have started to emerge.
But the last time I looked, I found a bee with deformed wings in one of my colonies so I called my friend John for advice.
Can you see this bee here? Yes.
It has got little runts of wings.
Yeah, that is what I saw before.
That is absolutely classic of deformed wing bee virus.
And obviously the bee is absolutely useless.
Yes, because it can't fly.
It can't fly.
'The disease of the wings can be the first warning of a much 'bigger problem.
' Deformed wing bee virus is transmitted by varroa mites.
The varroa bite the baby larvae and inject some fluid into the larvae, rather like a drug addict using a dirty hypodermic syringe.
And the virus goes in and then it causes the larva to be deformed.
The varroa mite has killed millions of bees worldwide.
It was first found in the UK on 4 April 1992, in Devon.
Varroa is here and it is spreading.
'This beekeeper is 'one of thousands whose livelihoods are under threat.
' Since then, it has wiped out many of the UK's wild honeybees and it has devastated domesticated bees, too.
At Sussex University, Professor Francis Ratnieks studies the varroa mite.
These are adult female mites on the microscope.
It is actually quite a large mite, it is about 2mm across.
The honeybee is only about 20mm long so if this was on you it would be quite a nasty crab-shaped, or crab-sized, object.
On the adult worker bees they often attach themselves between two of the plates on the outside of the bee's body.
The mites feed on the blood of the bees, whether it is a larva or a pupa or an adult.
They can harm the bee through this feeding, but the greater harm is caused by spreading viral diseases.
If enough bees are infected, the colony will die out.
But there are things you can do.
This is a new kind of treatment, isn't it? This is a new treatment.
It is two paper bags with a sugary base inside and formic acid, which is the acid that is in ants' stings.
What does the formic acid do? It kills the varroa mites, but how, I have no idea! It is literally so new that this is the first hive that I have actually used it on.
Oh, right.
'The vapour from the sachets causes asphyxiation in the varroa mites, 'but as long as you get the dose right, it has no effect on bees.
' Normally we treat them in the winter, when they are not gathering honey, or at least in the autumn when we have extracted the honey.
This treatment we are allowed to use at any time of the year.
And it doesn't affect the honey? It is not supposed to.
When I laid it down, did you hear the bees hum? Yes.
They obviously don't like it.
Yes.
They're thinking, what is this? 'To find out if the treatment has worked, you need to see how 'many dead varroa mites fall through the bottom of the hive.
'So we are putting in a piece of whiteboard that they will 'show up on.
' If any varroa mites drop onto the floor, onto the whiteboard, we will be able to see them.
Right, hope so.
Bit depressing to find those.
In a week or so, the bees should have eaten the new treatment so we will come back and find out if it has worked.
so we will come back and find out if it has worked.
After a slow start, the meadow is now growing fast.
Buttercups are soon joined by dandelions and yellow rattle.
The bees are bringing back pollen stuck to their back legs to provide protein for the growing young larvae, and while there is a supply of pollen the queen continues to lay eggs.
If the varroa is under control, then the bee colony should be expanding fast, from the 10,000 or so bees that survive over the winter to around 50,000 or 60,000 when the colony reaches its peak.
After a week, it is time to find out if the varroa treatment has worked.
If you take out the The white tray.
.
.
the white tray.
And then we count how many have come down.
Dare we have a look? If you pop it on here for a moment.
Yes.
That looks like one and that looks like one.
And there are three or four there, do you see? Yes, I do see them.
But the treatment has killed them and they have fallen through the mesh floor onto this? Yes.
'This method seems to have done the trick.
'Now it is time to see how the bees are doing.
' That's good, there are lots of bees at the top, isn't it? It is a relief.
You haven't killed off my bees then, John! There are still bees here! And this is what's left with the treatment.
And this is what's left with the treatment.
Looks absolutely fine.
Does it, yes? Looks absolutely fine.
Does it, yes? There is still a bee with deformed wings.
It will take another generation for all the deformed bees to die out and the new bees to look OK.
And look, here is a baby bee emerging.
If I just give them my forceps SHE LAUGHS That's fantastic.
There you are.
Oh, wow! 'It takes 16 days for a worker to hatch out.
'When she is ready, she eats her way through the wax cap that 'seals the cell she has been growing in.
' That is fantastic to see.
I have never seen that, you know, John.
Wonderful.
So she is now going to offer some honey? She will go and find some honey and stick her head in some honey.
Will the other bees help her? Normally they just ignore her.
Do they? She's only one of about 40,000.
It is a relief to see that my bees are OK following the treatment.
THEY CHANT: Save our bees But over the last 30 years, bee numbers have been falling fast in the UK and around the world.
There has been a massive decline in the number of wild flowers available for bees to forage on, and there is also a fierce debate raging about the role pesticides may play.
Bees are such important pollinators of many of our most valuable crops that their decline is big news.
The World At One.
This is Martha Kearney with 45 minutes of news and comment.
Ask any beekeeper and they will tell you all the problems they have been having in recent years.
Bee populations have dramatically declined in recent decades, threatening agriculture around the world as they pollinate many crops.
So what has been causing that? Well, the European Union today has been voting on whether to ban certain pesticides or not.
'In May 2013, the EU decided to impose a temporary ban on one 'kind of pesticide, neonicotinoids.
'But what is the evidence against them? 'At Newcastle University, Dr Geraldine Wright has been 'studying the effect of these pesticides on the honeybee.
' The bee is an amazing animal that forages in the landscape on many different flower species.
Bees have to learn visual cues, they learn scent cues and they learn places.
They associate those things with nectar and pollen which they collect and bring back to the colony.
Dr Wright has devised an experiment to find out what effect pesticides might have on the bees' ability to learn where their food is.
Honeybees are cooled down to make them docile.
You can see that the bee is not running around in here, she has just gone into a little bit of a deep sleep, the ice nap.
After she has been taken off the ice she can be handled very safely, using a pair of forceps.
We use a piece of gaffer tape and a piece of plastic tubing and by doing that, we can just place this piece of tape behind the bee's head, very carefully restraining her without harming her, and she will wake up in the little restraining harness where we can train her.
Now they can be taught to respond to the smell of a flower with the reward of sugar.
Sally is training each of the bees to learn to associate a floral scent with food.
She is using this little computer to drive a little puff of air that contains floral scent at the bee.
When the perfume goes towards the bee then we also deliver a small droplet of sucrose solution as a reward.
By carefully timing the presentation of the scent with the food reward, the bee learns that whenever she smells that particular floral scent she is going to get a reward.
They're quick learners and they soon stick out their proboscis for sugar as soon as they smell the scent.
Within three presentations of odour paired with the food, the bees will learn for life that that odour is a signal that they will be fed.
The result of each bee's learning is noted.
They are then fed a diet including doses of neonicotinoids, which Dr Wright maintains are at the same level they would be exposed to when feeding on a field of treated crops.
When they repeat the learning experiment, the results are startling.
What we find is that bees that have been feeding on very low doses of these pesticides for four days are just much slower at doing this.
There are a number of them, there are like 30% of them that cannot even do the task at all.
The remaining bees are not as fast, it takes them longer to do that.
Once they have learned the task, the next day not very many of them can remember it in comparison to bees that have not been exposed to the pesticide.
These neonicotinoid pesticides might not kill the bees all at once but Dr Wright thinks exposure to them does affect colonies' ability to feed themselves.
It's not so obvious, you don't see the bees stumbling around and falling over with their legs twitching, um, unless it's a fairly high dose of the stuff.
But at very low doses that are found in nectar and pollen, neonicotinoids actually disrupt the way that the brain works and are affecting the reward system, and the memory of bees.
works and are affecting the reward system, and the memory of bees.
And that would have a very profound effect on the nutrition of the entire colony.
But some scientists argue that neonicotinoids are less harmful than many other pesticides.
And at Sussex University, Professor Ratnieks questions the results of the research.
My current view on this issue is that the data are not yet there to say whether a dose of neonicotinoid insecticides found in the nectar and pollen of plants which have been treated is that sufficient to damage the bees, or their colonies.
In particular, it seems to me that many of the doses that have been used in laboratory studies are probably greater than what would be found in nectar and pollen.
So only more research will tell if the ban is enough to help the honeybee survive.
In the meantime, I have my own bees to worry about.
As well as the three hives at the wildflower meadow, I still have two colonies back at my cottage.
But one of them is so aggressive I'm quite scared of them.
And not without reason.
There's a bit of an irony to me keeping bees, because actually, I'm a bit allergic to their stings and that's why, in amongst my equipment, I have to carry this, which is an EpiPen.
I guess the risk is that if I got stung a lot of times, it could be quite serious.
In fact, a number of people die from bee stings every year.
Whenever I tell people that I keep bees, and I'm allergic, they think I'm mad, but I do carry my EpiPen and my doctor says it's fine so long as there's always somebody else around.
'To try to make my angry bees calmer, I've decided to experiment 'with something I haven't tried before.
I'm going to order a new 'queen by post to put in the hive 'and hope she breeds more placid bees.
'One of the most desirable types is the Buckfast bee.
'This is a hybrid that was developed by Brother Adam who 'was in charge of beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey from 1915 to 1992.
'Over years of cross-breeding, Brother Adam 'arrived at a strain of bee that was both productive and good tempered.
'So that's the one I've decided to go for.
'Bees have always been an important part of church life.
'They were kept by monks for their honey, 'but also for the beeswax, which was highly prized for candles.
'Beeswax burns with a brighter 'and cleaner flame than the cheaper tallow or rendered animal fat 'which was the only alternative source of light.
'Some churches still insist on beeswax candles.
'In fact, at the very highest echelons of the Anglican Church, 'the beekeeping tradition is alive and well.
'Lambeth Palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury 'for centuries.
'There are six hives here, to the delight of the latest 'incumbent, Justin Welby.
' Hello.
Hello, Martha, very nice to see you.
And very nice Thank you very much for inviting me to Lambeth Palace today.
It's a great pleasure.
When you heard there were hives here at Lambeth Palace, what did you think? I thought it was really exciting because my grandmother took to keeping bees and grew up with the information from the beekeepers you must always tell the bees all the news.
That's a really lovely old saying.
It's in Kipling.
Yes, yes.
So do you do that? Oh, yes, yes, we had to tell them.
She'd take us down and take me down and I'd say how school had been and what I was doing, and, you know And then, as I grew up, and I've got a boat and, you know, there's this pretty girl here and that sort of stuff.
So the bees knew all your secrets first? Oh, the bees knew more than anyone else, I assumed they were reasonably confidential.
So, yeah, I mean, they're doing well So here they are.
That one in particular is doing brilliantly.
That's a busy hive.
A lot of supers.
You're going to get There's going to be a lot of honey out of that one.
And do you like honey? Yes, I do.
I particularly like honeycomb.
Bees are also a potent symbol in Christian thinking.
The spiritual picture of bees was that The ancient legend was they were the only creature to escape untainted from the Garden of Eden.
So they were particularly innocent.
I mean, the great preachers in the era of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantinople, would be referred to as honey-tongued preachers and it was a sort of sense of smooth and sweet and with words that carried real conviction and power and life-changing impact.
And you see hives a lot in religious art, particularly in monasteries, this idea of everybody living harmoniously together.
Yes.
Everyone living harmoniously together in the monastery, clearly the people who picked up on those had never lived in a monastery.
Religious community life was, and to this day remains, not always that easy.
But then I suppose hives aren't always as harmonious as we like to imagine, or that medievals liked to imagine.
So you're worried about a swarm or, dare I say, a schism? I never thought of it that way! Back at the cottage, I'm trying to bring back harmony to my rebellious hive.
The new gentle queen bee is arriving at her new palace.
Morning.
I have a packet for you to sign for, please.
Do you know what's in there? Yes, it's bees.
Bees.
Does it make you a bit nervous when you see live bees? No, what makes me more nervous is when you see live snakes.
You've not had snakes, have you? I have before, yes.
Seriously? Yes.
Oh, my God! Oh, you get all sorts of things come through the post.
Morning.
Morning.
Thank you.
Bye-bye.
What I'm going to do today is I'm going to take my new queen and we're going to get her into the old angry colony.
My friend Jan's going to come round and help me.
'You need plenty of advice and support when you start 'beekeeping.
My neighbour Jan Dryburgh has been very patient.
' Hello, Martha.
So the queen's arrived? Well, she's arrived.
She's arrived.
Yes, she's arrived, by post.
This morning? This morning, special delivery, I had to sign for her and I'm keen to get her opened up so we can have a A bit of fresh air.
There we go.
'The queen has been sent with an entourage of attendant bees 'to feed and clean her.
'The cage is plugged with sugar candy.
' Well, they all There is certainly They're all alive, aren't they? Yes, they're rushing about.
It's a very good sign.
I expect they're wondering what's happening.
Yes, exactly, where they are.
Welcome to your new home, ladies.
Looking forward to seeing a change of temperament after this.
Yeah, I know.
They're vicious, those bees, aren't they? I'm really quite scared of them.
OK, lovely.
Right, Your Majesty.
Right, Your Majesty.
And off we go then.
Queen bees rule the colony through powerful pheromones that give signals to the bees.
Each queen has a different smell.
If two are present in the same hive, they'll fight.
Queens are the only bees who can sting and not die.
Whichever is stung first won't survive.
That should give them a calming digestive honey.
Yes, just for a little bit.
'Jan and I have to keep the new queen separate from the old one, 'but first we need to find her.
' Well, she should be breeding and pretty large now so we shouldshouldn't have too much difficulty seeing her.
'As soon as the roof comes off the bees are out and on the attack.
' See what I mean? They're not nice bees, are they? If you give them a bit more smoke.
They're quite agitated, aren't they, Jan? Well, fairly.
Any sign of the queen yet? No, haven't looked, really.
I'm getting a little bit worried about them.
And this is generally what they're like, these bees.
They're not calm at all.
One of the things, though, that you have to bear in mind is almost invariably the bad-tempered bees are the ones that produce the most honey.
THEY LAUGH No, I can't see her there.
Any sign on your side? No.
And there's not too many bees.
There's none on my side either.
Stick her in there quickly.
You don't want the brood to get chilled.
'We separate out some frames of brood without the old queen, 'to put into a travelling box.
' Shall we have a look through these For the old queen.
.
.
for the old queen? Ah, there, look, you see she's marked.
Yellow mark.
Yellow mark, yeah, for last year's Fantastic.
Oh, she's quite a different shape, isn't she? Look.
Lovely.
So there we are, we know the old queen is there, we can see her.
Yes, there she is.
Pop her back.
Be a good idea to have her right in the middle so she's laying on either side.
Eventually I'm going to kill the old queen.
Cruel as it sounds.
But she's laying very bad-tempered bees so I'm afraid it's curtains for her.
You've got a lot of bees on your backback shoulders.
'We take the frames of brood with no queen over to a spare 'hive where we will introduce them to their new Buckfast queen.
' You're going to have a new mummy soon.
Right, I've got the queen, I'm going to pop her in this one where there's lots of honey.
So if you put it back down and I'm going to squish her against this one.
There she is so she's stuck right inside with the oozing honey.
Good.
So they should love that.
That will attract them to it.
And what they're going to do is they're going to eat their way through the sugar at the very entrance of the queen cage, aren't they? So they'll get used to her smell and hopefully they'll accept her.
Well, yes.
Fingers crossed.
Fingers crossed, yes.
Well, we've done it.
And it's all calm and quiet.
It's all very calm and quiet so I guess we just we just need to wait and see if If she's accepted, and there's no reason why she shouldn't be.
And then you've got to We'll reunite them.
And dispose of the old queen or find a good home for her.
'If the new queen's accepted by the workers, she should start 'laying her mild-mannered offspring in the next few weeks.
'Three weeks later, 'master beekeeper John Everett's come to help check on my new queen.
' What I want to do today is get the angry queen out of the original hive and then reunite the two bits together, hopefully with the new, lovely, good-tempered Buckfast queen, and I should have a delightful new colony.
OK, so the first thing is to make sure that the queen was introduced correctly, you know, the Buckfast queen.
Once we've done that, we can think about the next stage which will be catching the old queen.
'And then we plan to commit regicide.
'But first we have to check whether the new queen has been accepted.
' Well, this looks rather good, doesn't it? This looks absolutely brilliant.
They've really done well.
There's so many bees here, the queen must have been introduced successfully.
Now, we've got some sealed brood here.
So the queen definitely must be here.
There she is! There she is.
There she is.
Oh, right.
Well, I'm really pleased because the big risk was that these bees would reject the new queen, the Buckfast queen, but they haven't.
She's in there, we've seen her, she's laying eggs, we've seen brood, that's the baby bees, so fingers crossed this is a healthy colony, and we should get some honey out of this, I think.
'Now it's time to kill the old queen and put the new 'queen in the bad-tempered colony.
First, we take off the top super.
' Right, shall we just give this lift this up a bit? Gosh, this is heavy, I might need you to help me lift this, John.
Wow Wow, this is full of honey, isn't it? It's incrediblyheavy.
I can't hold it for much longer.
'The bees are just as angry as usual 'but they have produced more honey than any of my other hives.
' That's just like an amazing amount of honey in there, in a very short period of time.
I mean, these bees, look at these bees, they're so blooming bad-tempered, but they are very, very productive.
Let's just take a look at one of these.
Wow, look at that, that's fantastic.
'They've filled up all the frames 'and then carried on building more comb below.
' So we've got sealed honey here and some liquid honey with a little bit of pollen mixed in.
Maybe not quite ready to extract yet, do you think, if it's not? Next weekend Next weekend would be a good time.
'The honey is not ready to extract 'until the bees have sealed it over with a wax cap.
' Well, I really wasn't expecting this.
Because I only left There were only a few frames in the brood box when I left them.
They've just gone absolutely mad.
I'm very torn because I was thinking about replacing the queen bee here, but they're phenomenally productive so, to be honest, I might just live with them being like this, because it's the price I'll pay for some great honey.
'The old queen has had a last-minute reprieve.
'I only hope my other colonies perform as well.
'Next time, my bees threaten to leave their overcrowded 'hives in a swarm.
' One of the tricks is to clip one of the wings of the queen.
You probably think I'm very sentimental but it sounds rather cruel to me.
'In Sussex, I discover a school of natural beekeeping.
This shape here is exactly the shape of the hive.
'And I find out just how much honey the angry bees have produced.
'