To recognise World Bee Day and the importance of pollinators for our environment, this month we spoke to two local businesses – Neve’s Bees and Helen’s Local Honey – who have bees at the heart of what they do!

Firstly, Julie, from Neve’s Bees in Eynsham…

Julie, tell us about yourself and your business:

The bees were my daughter Neve’s idea when, aged, 9 she decided we should keep bees: her Grandad Jim duly bought our first hive for her 10th Birthday!  We use our and other local beekeeper’s pure Oxfordshire beeswax to create our range of 100% natural skincare and gifts (think of us like the English Burt’s Bees!).

How do you support your customers in living greener lifestyles? 

There are several ways in which we support this:

  1. Neve’s Bees is certified by The Soil Association and COSMOS as natural and organic – meaning all our processes and procedures adhere to the highest sustainable standards from our ingredients and packaging, through to the cleaning materials and our waste management. This also means all our products and ingredients are certified cruelty free and natural
  1. Unlike most skincare companies, we do not dilute our products with water (skin creams, lotions, gels are between 70% and 95% water). This added water means these products have a greater carbon footprint to ship and use significantly more packaging. Also, all water based products need to contain emulsifiers (also known as surfactants) and biocides (also known as preservatives) these are not generally good for your skin and are increasingly emerging as environmental contaminants. See if your current face-cream, body lotion, toner, micellar water etc has ‘aqua’ as the first ingredient…None of Neve’s Bees products contain these chemicals. If you’d like to decode what’s in your current skincare, have a look at our blog post which explains this:
  1. We’re on a mission to bring back the wildflowers and the bees and other pollinators these support – did you know the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1970s, a vital source of forage for our nations pollinators – noticed how much cleaner your windscreens are than they used to be . We donate at least 10% of our profits to wildlife causes such as Plantlife (who do the No Mow May campaign) and our local Nature Recovery Network. We also give away packs of wildflower seeds free with all orders over £12 from our website
  1. We post interesting (we think!) information to help people better understand bees, butterflies, wildflowers, native trees etc – we get lovely feedback about our social posts and our blogs

How can our members buy from you?

We sell in various local shops (such as Yarnton Garden Centre) and have our own website where we offer free delivery – we can even send a gift directly to somewhere with your own message handwritten on one of our ‘Happy Vibes’ cards:  We’d be happy to offer your members a special discount – we’re celebrating World Bee Day – if they put code worldbday15 into the coupon box, they’ll get 15% off the whole order

Next, we spoke to Helen Raine from Helen’s Local Honey, in Upper Tadmarton.

Hi Helen! Tell us about yourself and your business:

I’ve been a beekeeper since 2002. My grandfather kept bees in cider apple orchards in Somerset, the craft had been passed to him from 2 previous generations. Beekeeping is a charming, fascinating and rewarding hobby but there is a lot to know. Generally, the skill is having thorough knowledge in order to be able to care for colonies fully but with judicious judgment so avoiding unnecessary interference. I produce local honey for sale, and also provide apiary management services for people who want to have bees kept on their own property and enjoy honey from those hives. I also teach beginners for Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association, and mentor and support novices locally.

I am not a big commercial beekeeper. I compare my beekeeping more with ‘slow food’, having a sustainable and gentle approach to handling the bees. I have the status of bee farmer but I am a small business precisely to provide the best depth of care to the bees that I look after, and I take a prudent approach on a new site starting with small numbers of colonies to find out what the surrounding forage can comfortably support, being respectful of the local wild pollinators rather than suddenly overwhelming them, until establishing there is enough forage for all.

How does Helen’s Local Honey support customers in living greener lifestyles?

We support clients who want to have honey from their own property, along with those wanting to increase pollinator numbers as part of their re-wilding programme or wildflower meadow planting, increasing the diversity of forage for all pollinators.

Education is a key value, I visit some primary schools with observation hives and bee/insect props for children to see/smell/touch. There’s lots of scope for educational gain, and introducing children to pollinators is a great way to teach about the environment and sustainability. Likewise, teaching beekeeping to beginners is very rewarding, but it takes a lot of hours to become competent. I also offer Bee Discovery Experiences where visitors put on beesuits and explore inside a beehive, handling frames of bees and brood and honey under careful supervision. If you see a swarm of honeybees please help by visiting the BBKA swarm collectors webpage
and contacting a listed beekeeper so that the swarm can be collected and re-homed safely. I would also really encourage joining the No Mow May initiative – let your garden grow freely during May and avoid mowing the lawn to give flowers a chance to bloom and provide a source of pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and other insects, eg dandelions are a good pollen provider right now. Many ‘weeds’ also provide valuable forage. If you would like to help pollinators further please avoid pesticides, and plant flowers! Perennials, particularly blue or purple, native smelly flowers such as herbs are great, and simple flowers are easier to feed from
than complex flower structures or any modified varieties

How can our members get involved or buy from you?

Buying honey from your local beekeeper helps ensure that beekeeping continues. Globally, honey fraud is an enormous problem and drives down prices such that supermarkets can sell a product at an inconceivably low price for it to be genuine honey, to the detriment of local producers. If you don’t know the beekeeper how do you know that the honey is genuine? Helen’s Local Honey is firmly committed to quality local honey. Bottling only in small batches means that only minimal processing is needed, plus the provenance of every jar is traceable to its origin and leads to a range of floral flavours. Genuine local honey is a superb product, and we find a ready market for our honey once people have tasted it. We were also pleased to take two First Prizes in the annual Oxfordshire Honey Show in autumn 2022.

Helen’s Local Honey is stocked at Adderbury Stores, Soho Farmhouse, and pop-up farm shop “Browns at Park Farm” at Middleton Stoney. We often sell direct at Adderbury events, and other local village events where I keep bees eg South Newington Flower Shower, Milton Produce Show, Radway Fete. We also sell from our home in Tadmarton, or can often deliver locally. Bees face enormous challenges from our changing environment and farming practices, and human actions mean that they really need our help and support nowadays. Bees are the custodians of our agricultural economy and diversity of food. It is widely recognised that there is real need to reverse pollinator decline, they are essential to the health of our ecosystem, one third of the UK’s food is pollinated by bees, and globally it is said that without bees we may never be able to solve the widespread issues of hunger and poverty.