An A+ for Bees!
Managing a bee hive on school grounds may sound a touch scary, but not for the students of St Margaret’s School in Berwick, Melbourne. To my knowledge this is the only hive cared for by students in the whole of Australia – If you know of any other schools keeping bees I would love to hear about them.
It has been a fantastic journey over the last year! The germination of this project started with teacher Chris Wyatt and a feral hive that became established in one of the heritage-listed school buildings. A swarm had taken up residence under the wooden tiles on the second-storey roof about four years ago. Since it was high up, initially it caused no real concern for the teachers and students, but as the colony grew, so did the propensity to swarm, and this caused chaos in the schoolyard! The bees had to go, but rather than have them exterminated, Chris (who has been keeping bees himself for a number of years) proposed that they be safely removed and relocated. He gave me a call and asked if I could help save the bees.
Upon my first visit, thermal imaging indicated that the bees could be extricated from inside the building by the removal of some plaster. The exercise required considerable planning, but about two weeks later approval was granted to go ahead. Chris assisted me to get the bees out after school hours – everything went smoothly and I really appreciated the help!
Chris had suggested that the bees be kept and utilised as part of a beekeeping program in the school. I had honestly not given the notion much thought, but Chris spent a large amount of his personal time creating a risk assessment that would not only allow the bees to be kept at the school, but also permit the students to participate in maintaining the hive. There were a variety of issues to address. Where should the hive be located? What would happen if a student got stung? Eventually, with Chris’ persistence and very little opposition, the program became a reality, and the hive is now looked after by 17 of the senior students, who are all girls. So, I suppose you could say it is a case of the girls from the girls’ school tending to the needs of a whole colony of girls (or worker bees)!
It has now been six months since the hive was resettled on the school grounds, and I was recently invited to check on progress. I was absolutely amazed that we were able to perform a full inspection of the hive with no smoker within cooee! Weather permitting, the students inspect the hive every eight days, so it appears that this once feral hive has now become accustomed to regular inspections. Certainly an amazing experience for me, and something that I am proud to have been part of.