4 November 2022
Our Ebbw Vale campus is not just home to award-winning post-16 education. In fact, the Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone campus has some unexpected but particularly important residents – honeybees!
Above the heads of students and staff, half a million bees are going about their daily business. With five beehives located on the roof, a dedicated team of college volunteers make it their mission to care for the bees, led by Maths Lecturer, Erik Moons. With a passion for looking after bees and raising awareness of their importance for our future, he explains; “It’s a relaxing and calm environment, like a different world up on the roof. But we’re saving the world in a little way here. If all the pollinators were gone tomorrow, within three years, we would cease to exist. So, it’s important to help them thrive.”
As a beginner beekeeper with an enthusiasm for learning, Erik has become our apiary expert at the college. He’s seen the hives suffer devastating wasp attacks and colonies that have not survived harsh winters. But with his nurturing care and attention, new swarm colonies have moved in, he’s rescued failing hives, and the honeybees are thriving. Erik’s first colony is now 120,000 bees strong!
With the help and support of YouTube, books, a professional local beekeeper, and his beekeeping membership and course with the British Beekeepers Association, Erik has learnt to care for the bees responsibly. He now shares his knowledge with other volunteers like Cleaning Supervisor Angela Atkinson and Learning Coach Tracey Cotterell, who support him with weekly hive inspections. Meanwhile, other college staff have embraced the new residents too, including Woodwork Tutor Karl Wertheim, who created a new hive and boxes to house the expanding colonies.
Erik is now harvesting and selling honey from the rooftop hives, with all profits going back into caring for the bees so they can provide a better environment and offer valuable learning opportunities. He said; “I’d like to ensure that our bees’ future here at Coleg Gwent is secure and that they’re looked after in a responsible way. We hope to gain honey and wax for candles, which we can sell to fund more equipment and food for the bees. In the future, I’d like to breed bees on a small scale and put them up for sale, securing enough money to provide them with high quality food for an entire year!”
Erik plans to share the importance of bees with students, dispelling common myths and promoting their benefits, such as the medicinal properties of honey and multi-use by-products like beeswax. But most importantly, without bees to pollinate and cross-pollinate crops and plants, we’d have less nutritious food on supermarket shelves, and reduced biodiversity in our natural habitats, affecting all the plants and animals that are co-dependent on bees.
For this reason, when the bees are at their calmest during the winter, Erik will introduce them to Independent Living Skills learners who are making bee-friendly gardens on the roof. This will pave the way for Erik and the volunteer beekeepers to spread awareness of the importance of bees in Coleg Gwent and the wider community of Ebbw Vale.
To support the Coleg Gwent bees and their volunteer beekeepers, you can purchase their locally produced honey from Blaenau Gwent Learning Zone reception for £5 a jar, with all profits helping to fund the future of the honeybee project and ultimately our environment.