More Than Honey

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In many wistful moments throughout my younger life I’d dreamed of one day becoming a beekeeper. Somehow I’d never got around to it though. There was always something more urgent going on in life, anyway I knew the bees would always be there when I was ready for them. You could count on bees to buzz around quietly and do their stuff, after all they’ve been doing it for millions of years. But then slowly, over the last few years, news began circulating that beekeepers were reporting terrible losses – bees dying or deserting their hives en masse. And the bad news about bees kept coming. Suddenly, it seemed like maybe the bees couldn’t wait after all. They were dying out apparently. Why?
A few weeks after pestering a local beekeeper into giving me a job for the summer, I began to find out for myself that there was more than a grain of truth in the newspaper headlines: bees are beset by all sorts of problems these days. From pesticides to parasites, from loss of suitable habitat to reasons we don’t yet understand, it’s got to a point now where without beekeepers helping them, there would hardly be any honeybees left at all.

This is a subject explored in an important new film by Swiss filmmaker Marcus Imkoof.  More Than Honey looks at beekeeping from different perspectives, searching for clues as to why bees are disappearing. In Switzerland, we find a beekeeper following timeless old family traditions, whose bees are suddenly under threat from disease and cross breeding with foreign species. In California, we witness big-beekeeping. Beekeeping as pollination service, bees playing their crucial part in the huge almond industry. It was for me beekeeping on a frighteningly industrial scale, beekeeping without a soul, beekeeping which I hope those of us in Europe who work with bees for a living will never feel the need to resort to.  In China we see the consequences for places where there are already no bees left – the bizarre sight of people working in an orchard having to laboriously pollinate fruit trees by hand.
The film is worth watching for its incredible cinematography alone. The narrative is interspersed with amazingly beautiful images from deep inside the beehive. Equally breathtaking are the sequences showing bees in flight. Humans have long been fascinated by bees, and these images will only increase our sense of awe.

And what of the future of bees? It’s a big question, and I can only speak from my limited experiences. I do think it’s important that awareness is being raised through films like More Than Honey. It helps create debate, and with it the potential for real change. From my experience, I would like to see more green policies to ensure healthy habitats, and  more funding for scientific research into the causes of the bees dying in such great numbers. I think we also need a new generation of well-educated, professional beekeepers, to replace the huge number of existing beekeepers who are by now very old. Beekeeping as a career choice needs to somehow become an attractive proposition once again.  It needs to be, otherwise who is going to take care of our remaining bees when the old generation hang up their bee jacket and smoker for the last time?

 

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