February 2019

‘Telling the Bees’ and the Beespoon

Alongside their work on Ensemble the researcher team are encouraged to work on complementary projects.  This month we feature the work of Liz Edwards who was Co-I on a recently completed AHRC funded project, ‘Telling the Bees’.

Telling the Bees was an interdisciplinary arts and humanities research project between Universities of York, Sheffield and Lancaster, working with GrowTheatre (Sheffield) and Explore York Libraries & Archives, which ran from February 2017 to September 2018 and built on an earlier project that ran from Apr 2015 – Oct 2016. The aims of the project were to develop and promote understanding and new ways of thinking about bees and beekeeping through design, drama, and digital making.

The discovery of the varroa destructor (a parasitic mite) in the UK in the 1990s led to a change in beekeeping practices, with beekeepers now having to adopt a more ‘hands on’ management approach to keep varroa in check.  A new generation of beekeepers are having to change the methods by which they learn their skills, raising questions about the loss of traditionally held knowledge, understanding and practice.  The first project, on which Liz was a designer, involved working with beekeepers and storytellers to gather stories, co-create artefacts and designed experiences to hold and share Traditional Ecological Knowledge as a community resource.

Photo: © Lindsay Perth 2015

As part of this project, the team designed an exhibit called ‘Beespoon’ to visualise the value of honey and the effort needed for its production. The Beespoon, is one-twelfth the size of a teaspoon and holds the amount of honey that a worker honeybee can produce during her lifetime. This was developed into an activity whereby visitors to the exhibit make an origami flower and decorate it with ultraviolet nectar guides. In exchange for the flower that forms part of a display, visitors can press a button the pumps a tiny amount of honey and the lucky few may see it drop into the Beespoon. The aim is to see if the Beespoon can be filled through collective efforts of visitors which is an analogy for a bee’s work. The anticipation of a droplet falling of creates a bit of a buzz (I’ll get my coat!). Most importantly the activity creates a space for conversations about bees, pollination and flowers.

Photo: © Lindsay Perth 2015

One of the aims of the most recent project was to develop the legacy of the Beespoon by making a more robust pack that could be borrowed and used independently by beekeeping groups, as well as making a bespoke version for the Bee Buddies team in Scotland.

The Telling the Bees team took the Beespoon and an interactive hive to the Countryfile Live Show from 2-5 August 2018 with the British Beekeeper’s Association. Over the weekend 25, 000 people visited the tent enabling the team to engage directly with 700-800 people per day.

At the end of July 2018 the team interacted with 345 visitors at Bee:Late at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry – as part of Bee in the City.

The Beespoon has taken on a life of its own, travelling around the country to be displayed by beekeeping and other interested groups at many events. In 2018 it has been seen at:

    • Royal Highland Show
    • British Beekeeper’s Spring Convention
    • Harrogate Show
    • Launch of the bees hives at Lancaster University EcoHub
    • Rural Arts Festival in Thirsk
    • Loch of the Lowes
    • RHS Spring Festival at Malvern
    • Ecclesall Woods Spring Festival in Sheffield
    • National Trust’s Lyme Park
    • The Fenland Fair
    • East Lancs Woodland and Heritage Day
    • The London Design Festival with AHRC
    • Twickenham and Thames Valley Honey Show

The Telling the Bees team are being approached for bookings in 2019 and are in discussions with BBKA and Scottish Beekeepers about future management of the Beespoons.

Photo: © Lindsay Perth 2015