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Recent reports that the beekeeper at Buckingham Palace took the time and trouble to tell the Royal Hives of the Queen’s death have left many perplexed. How would a bee hive possibly understand this message or act upon the news?  Why would or should this Medieval custom continue today?  Why should we, enlightened by hundreds of years of science, reason and progress, waste time with silly rituals devoid of any meaning except the preservation of tradition?    

This gentle act of mourning and ritual of transition is as old as Europe, at least, and the mythology or philosophy that we are one with Nature, evident in the act of “Telling the Bees”, is as rich as royal jelly.  Nonetheless, there is something not quite right in Camelot or indeed our modern world, if we don’t recognize some irony in this one-way conveyance of information.

First, consider more carefully who, in the beekeeping paradigm, is Master, and if Master then Master of what? Which one is in the Service of Whom?  Arguably, it is we who should be regarded as serving the Bees, at least if we take our responsibilities as beekeepers seriously.  If we do all we should to enable them to survive and thrive then they, as Masters of the environment around them will produce ample bounty; bounty enough to share with us.  If we fail in that duty then we will suffer their decline or demise and little or no harvest.

Clearly there are times when we are Masters in the sense of having dominion over the Bees, and where they might find their home, controlling the pedigree and succession of subsequent generations, as well as the allocation of hive products to the colony, versus what we harvest for our benefit.  Because they are Masters of their Environment, and so prodigiously efficient and thorough in finding flowers and harvesting nectar and pollen that we would be Master of a meager harvest but for them.  Consider their Service, not just to us, but to all of Nature.  Without their efforts, the transmission of gametes from one tree and flower to the next would fail or fall precipitously.  Consequently, without Bees the propagation of plant species and the production of nuts, fruit and other food would diminish. 

Our dependence upon Pollinators, including honey bees, has been widely publicized and that is a good thing.  But that alone is not nearly enough.  Instead of Telling the Bees of a Queen’s passing we should be listening to what the Bees are Telling Us!  And we as Beekeepers should share more widely with the World what the Bees are saying because it is hard to imagine that there are many beekeepers of long experience who are deaf to their warnings.

Colony numbers and colony productivity have been in decline for years.  The loss of native and agricultural habitat is accelerating in many parts of the world at a horrifying pace.  Population growth and conversion of natural ecosystems and productive agricultural land to concrete, asphalt, strip malls, and landscapes largely devoid of anything but turf and buildings are robbing honey bees and other pollinators of the resources they need to survive and thrive. The impact of climate change on droughts, floods, fires, storms, sea level rise, and the rapacious decimation of forests, wetlands, prairies, riparian corridors and natural ecosystems of all kinds continues unabated.  The resulting impoverishment of Nature threatens more than Bees and keystone pollinators, extending to alarming declines in Birds, Amphibians, Fish and Marine Mammals.  

Beekeepers of the realm do your duty.  Hear the Bees.  Share with the World what Bees and all these creatures are Telling Us – we can’t go on this way!