Professor Robert Pickard is an international authority on the biology of honeybees and President of both the Cardiff Beekeepers Association and the UK Central Association of Beekeepers. I feel an unexpected sense of pride when he tells me his favourite hobby is gardening and it is with his inherent modesty that he adds quickly, “although we only have an ordinary suburban garden with too many trees and lots of fallen leaves at this time of year.”
Currently Chairman of CoRWM at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Robert has also recently down-hived, “I used to have 10 hives here but now only have 2 or 3. I had 200 hives at one time in fields near the Gower. Not an ideal place, as bees find the coastal winds a bit disruptive and flying over water is difficult for them. They’re like World War 1 Pilots, measuring their velocity and direction of flight in relation to fixed points on the ground. Over water, the information flickers and sends them off course.
“I have always loved all aspects of biology and started keeping bumble bees in my bedroom when I was 9 years old. I drilled a few holes into a piece of wood and trapped it in the sash window, then used some of my father’s plumbing pipe to join it to aquaria in my bedroom. I searched for Queens starting nests in the spring and soon had numerous bumble bees flying about under my bedroom window; the window cleaner was the only person who was unimpressed.
“After obtaining my first degree in Zoology I went into nervous systems of insects and preferred the honey bee as its brain was intricate enough to give insight and also small enough to work on bio-electronically.
“The most important thing bees have given to human beings is the evolutionary process of flowers having developed colour and scent. All plants were initially pollinated by wind or water and were simple shades of green and yellow with bowed heads waiting for the wind to blow. When insects started to collect pollen as protein, immediately there was huge competition amongst plants to attract insects and different and therefore flower colours and shapes evolved.
“Bee keeping also provides a great model for true society and would be ideal to study in schools. Observation hives are a wonderful way to learn but you need to see what’s happening, not just look. If we could mimic the social life of the honey bee the World would be a better place; we are too self orientated and are still a herding species rather than a social species. We could learn so much about disseminated social responsibility from the hive. Every bee has a bit of responsibility, a bit of control and has to go through every occupation before becoming an elite free flying forager.
Education isn’t about delivering information it’s about the ability to take someone by the hand and lead them from darkness into light. Understanding anything is illuminating; people should be encouraged to maximise their own potential and to contribute to a social cohesion.
One of the reasons I love gardening is that the microcosm in a garden reflects what’s happening on the Planet. A World without flowers would be a very impoverished world.
And fuelling my pride further, the former Chairman of the NGO Forum for the Royal Society for Public Health and the Department of Health concludes, “I believe that if you are able to create or assist an appropriate environment for human conditions you are doing more for health and wellbeing than nutrition and diet.”