Each year, at the summer’s end, some Meridian beekeepers take their strongest hives to the New Forest.
Ling heather growing there begins flowering in late July and continues until September. Colonies taken to the heather must be in peak condition, having a well-laying queen and plenty of bees.
As ever with beekeeping, good weather is essential. Yields are rarely high so Heather honey is like gold dust! The worst that can happen is that the bees will fill their boxes with plenty of good quality winter stores.
Heather honey is neither runny or set. It has a thixotropic consistency (jelly-like) but a quick stir with a spoon and it turns to liquid before setting again.
Heather honey has a distinctive floral, slightly bitter flavour and is rich in antioxidants; that’s why it’s often called the ‘British Manuka’. There is more information about honey generally on other pages.
Hampshire Beekeepers’ guidance
The following notes have been compiled as guidance for those beekeepers taking their colonies to the New Forest. Although most of the points are not rules, the guidance is based on common sense and good practice.
- All colonies moved to the heather must be free from disease.
- Colonies must not be moved from apiaries where there is a standstill order in force.
- Beekeepers must pay regular visits to their colonies to ensure all is well. Horses and other critters can do considerable damage.
- Where a colony has died out, it should be removed from the site immediately as it is a possible source of disease.
- Particular attention should be paid to robbing: it can be triggered easily in shared sites by returning wet supers to hives.
- Towards the end of the heather honey flow, reduce entrances to your hives as a precaution against robbing.
- When visiting a shared site check other hives in case they have been knocked over or left askew by animal contact. Please straighten them up to prevent robbing and advise the hive owner.
- Make sure your hives are clearly marked with this year’s identity number and your contact details to help should a problem arise.
- On communal sites, it’s important beekeepers act as a team to support each other and troubleshoot problems early on.
- Keep away from roads, paths and bridal ways, and ensure your hives are sufficiently distant from others.
- Visit the site before moving your bees so that your move can be properly planned.
These notes are based on guidance from Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association.
Each year, Meridian organises the ‘heather migration’ as an Association and siting hives in the forest must be pre-arranged and agreed. Bees are booked for the forest in April or May and the forest license begins at the end of July and expires 6 October.
Peter Grimes of the Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association has compiled this comprehensive risk assessment which offers a helpful guide to the issues you may wish to consider.