‘Bee warrior’ Emma explains just how important they are to farmers

A Ballygowan woman is using social media to educate others on the important role bees play when it comes to the food we eat.

Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 12:58 pm

Emma Thompson is one half of the Bee Haven Beekeepers (with her dad, David, making up the other 50 per cent!) and has amassed almost 50,000 followers on her TikTok account, as well as posting on Instagram and Facebook.

She shares videos documenting her life as a beekeeper, but also delivers a hard-hitting message about the crucial role bees play when it comes to the crops growing in fields across the country.

She began keeping her own bees eight years ago after uncovering the wonders of raw honey during a journey of discovery, when she was trying probiotics and natural foods in a bid to combat acne.

Emma Thompson pictured with her dad, David.

“I was eating raw honey off the spoon and thought it was amazing,” Emma told the Farming Life.

“I got my phone out to look up honey and find out about where it comes from.

“That was about nine years ago. I had never seen a honey bee, not as far as I could remember.

“I thought it was really interesting what I was reading and I became obsessed with them and intrigued by their behaviour.”

It was then Emma decided to look into getting her own hive and discovered a preliminary beekeeping course nearby that she could attend.

“I went to a course with The Killinchy Beekeepers’ Association and that was the start of it,” she said.

“It was like a pull from the gut, I just knew it was for me – I had discovered myself, slightly.

“Dad came with me on the course and that’s how we became beekeepers. We started together.”

The Bee Haven Beekeepers in action.

Emma and her father, David, have hives in Downpatrick and Dundonald and explained, when it comes to keeping bees, you want an area that is quite wild, like the wildest of gardens.

“Bees love that,” Emma continued. “If everybody could leave a little corner wild, it would be great for the bees.”

And, when it comes to the crops grown by farmers, bees are big fans of rapeseed!

“It’s wildly said that bees pollinate a third of the food on your plate,” Emma stated.

“There are other pollinators, but honey bees are focussed on because of their big numbers.

“Farmers, in turn, will see an increase in their yield.

“They will want bees to come and pollinate their crops.

“The apple orchards, for example, pay for local beekeepers to bring their bees along to pollinate.

“So, the farmers need the bees. If there is any increase in their yield from bees, they are going to want to capitalise on that.”

The local beekeeper is also urging farmers, and members of the public, to be mindful when it comes to spraying, after she lost a staggering 80 per cent of her hives in just one week.

“Something was sprayed on plants nearby that the bees had then foraged on,” Emma explained.

“I hope that, through me talking about the dangers of some pesticides, people will think about what they can use on plants and crops that is bee-friendly.

“Eighty per cent of my business was wiped out. If I had been in the business of honey, I would have been in serious trouble.

“Farmers need bees for yield, we need bees for the planet and we need farmers for food.

“There needs to be an alliance where we are all working together.”

Emma also suggested farmers, who are using bee-friendly pesticides, might have some space on their land that they could offer to a local beekeeper for their hives, or could leave some areas ‘wild’.

As well as bees, Emma is an advocate for the misunderstood wasp!

“Wasps are nature’s natural pesticide,” she said.

“Large crop producers in some of the warmer countries use wasps as their pest control. I’m a wasp warrior too!

“If we didn’t have wasps, we wouldn’t have plants to pollinate.

“Bees need wasps as much as we need bees. They are an integral part of the ecosystem.”

Since June, Emma has had huge growth on her TikTok account.

People have been getting in touch with her to ask for advice about bees and to help with the safe removal of them too.

“It has been brilliant for helping people to understand about bees and for creating ‘bee warriors’,” she revealed.

“It’s been great for business and for having open and honest conversations and dispelling myths around beekeepers, and drawing attention to the question, ‘are you a vegan or a beegan?’.”

While Bee Haven Beekeepers have been around for five or six years now, Emma began to actually create her own range of products in 2019 and has built up an online store at www.beehavenbodycare.co.uk.

“It has grown so much in the last couple of years that I am now a full-time beekeeping business,” she said.

“If I didn’t have the help and support of my parents [David and Liz], I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

“My daughter, Brooke, helps me with the admin side of things too.”

Emma decided to have a go at creating her own range of natural skincare products after her acne returned.

“There are things that are marketed for kids and I wouldn’t put any of those things near my own skin.

“If people go back to using something that is eco-friendly, it will nourish the skin and heal and repair it.

“They’re also helping an ethical beekeeper invest into her own bees which will, in turn, help local farmers and the ecosystem.”

As with taking care of any livestock or animal, beekeeping has its ups and downs too!

“The best thing about beekeeping is a beautiful summer’s day when you can smell the beehive. “You’re in your suit and the sun is shining – it’s magical,” she explained.

“You crack open your beehives and the bees are happy and buzzing. The smell of the wax and the honey too.

“Also, doing it with my dad and having my family so involved is one of the best things.”

And, the hardest part? Well, Emma admitted it can be a bit like a game of chess.

“You never know what you’re going to see when you open your hive.

“There are so many things that are against bees. You can open your hives and they’re gone; they’re dead.

“You are trying to protect your bees from the world they’re living in and making sure that they are happy, healthy and flourishing.

“It’s not easy.”

If you are on TikTok, give Emma a follow to show your support at @missbeehaven123.

Or search for Bee Haven Bodycare on Instagram or Facebook.

You can also visit Emma’s website at www.beehavenbodycare.co.uk

“I just want to get the message across about how important bees are and to support your local beekeeper,” Emma ended.