If I were to tell you that, upon a visit to the White Rose Shopping Centre, I was fortunate to witness a number of busy bees at work, would you think I was referring to the retail workers in the run up to Christmas - or perhaps the customers, rushing round getting last-minute presents?
Well, the aforementioned may hold true, but the bees I refer to are of the buzzing and flying kind - 50,000 of them to be precise.
Would it amaze you to know that whilst customers enjoy their hot chocolates and snacks in the food hall, on the other side of the wall, on the roof outside, is a colony of bees and several hives, tended to by a beekeeper? Nestled towards the back of the expansive roof are several modern looking bee hives housing thousands of honey bees.
But what are they doing in situ and how did they get there?
White Rose General Manager, James Bailey, says that he was inspired after attending a regional meeting in Manchester. There he discovered bee colonies were on the roof of the building and felt it could be beneficial to do something similar at the White Rose Centre.
He said: “It ticked several boxes for me. I have a strong personal interest in the concept of beekeeping and the science that goes into it and it also ties in with the centre’s corporate social responsibilities.
“Added to that, the White Rose Centre is located on a nature site, surrounded by a beck, water features and woodland walks and I felt that it would sit well with the centre’s environmental credentials.
“Bees are good for the environment due to pollination, in fact 60 per cent of the world’s population is bee dependent.”
Not only are honey bees good for the environment but they also produce copious amounts of honey, in fact over the summer alone, they produced enough to fill more than 250 small jars. Whilst the centre is not selling the product, they are giving away larger amounts to charities over the festive period, to help with fundraising.
Mr Bailey said: “We had the idea for the bee colonies late last year and by May of this year it was all in place.
“We realised we needed an expert to guide us in terms of access for contractors, any potential impact on customers etc. So we enlisted the help of experienced bee keeper, Keith.”
The man in question is 69-year-old Keith Dobson, who has 46 seasons of bee keeping experience under his belt and is a member of the Leeds Bee keepers Association, which has 200 representatives.
He advised Mr Bailey to consider getting the Apis Melifera Melifera bee, a European species, known to be gentle and prolific, producing, on average, one-gram of honey per bee.
Mr Dobson is clearly passionate about his work and credits it with keeping him looking and feeling much younger than his years.
He said: “Sadly, the bee population is in decline due to pesticides and bad bee-keeping. At our peak over the summer, we had a quarter of a million bees here - incidentally the same amount of customers the centre has in a week. We check them every 10 days and can’t replace the Queen during that time. The winter bees have a short life span, approximately six weeks, whilst the Queen can live for several years. The colonies consist of a Queen, the worker bees and the drones and all of them have a role to play. We ensure we give some of their honey back to them to keep them going and also feed them fondant and sugar syrup at first. They can fly up to a three mile radius, but are quite lethargic at the moment because of the cold weather.
“They produce exceptional honey because they are in a good area. The honey is pure and doesn’t need to have a sell-by date.”
One of Mr Dobson’s favourite part of his job is experiencing all of the wonderful scents, such as heather and spring flowers the bees bring back with them after foraging in the flora for food.
He said, perhaps surprisingly, that he gets the bees delivered in packages through the post, with approximately 10,000 bees in each pack. He has, so far, escaped any bad stings.
Something both the bee keeper and the General Manager have benefitted from with the bee initiative is being able to link with schools and educate local children.
General Manager Mr Bailey said that anyone interested in finding out more or linking up with them should, pardon the pun, ‘give him a buzz!’
Details can be found on the centre’s website at www.white-rose.co.uk.