Village bowlers set green agenda by turning hands to beekeeping

A small bowling club in a former mining village in the east of Scotland has joined the prestigious ranks of the Scottish Parliament and the Queen’s grocer Fortnum and Mason, in London’s Piccadilly, by setting up its own beehives.
Picture: Lisa FergusonPicture: Lisa Ferguson
Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The club in Midlothian is turning over a patch of recently cleared spare land to house the bees with the aim of helping the environment and producing its own-label bespoke Newtongrange Bowling Club Honey.

The inspiration for the hives came from Ian Keith, the club’s green ranger, who admitted he was wary about raising the idea at a recent committee meeting.

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“I was on the number 29 bus passing Dobbies garden centre in Dalkeith and I spotted a wee patch of field nearby on the right hand side with hives on it,” Keith said.

“I just thought that with the piece of land we’ve clawed back we could do something to help the environment.

“So at the meeting I said ‘Right, I’m going to throw something in and you’re more than welcome to throw it back at me’. Then I said ‘How about thinking about some bees?’”

Keith, who lives in the village, said: “There was a muted silence for what seemed like ages, then Alan Crawford, the club’s secretary, said ‘mmm, not a bad idea’.”

Crawford said members of the club, established in 1902, had been positive about the idea, but that one or two said they hoped they “were not going to be bothered by bees on the green”.

“There were the usual one-liners from members,” he said. “One member said ‘the club has gone from strength to strength with new bowlers and new social members over the past two years, so the place has been buzzing anyway. Why not have the bees there to finish this one?’

“At a time when we are all trying hard to work with nature to protect the environment, it was felt this was a perfect partnership. Once the hives are set up we could even think about the ladies champion and gents champion naming the honey for that year.”

Keith then telephoned David Hennessey, chair of Newbattle Beekeepers Association, who inspected the site, which is about half the size of a tennis court. Hennessey suggested starting off the new venture with two hives and getting more in future years.

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A ten-year Scottish Government action plan to help halt the decline of bee and butterfly populations is underway across Scotland. The plan includes the restoration and creation of habitats rich in flowers and conducting research into the impact of climate change on pollinators.

A report published last month revealed 17 bee species were already extinct in parts of the UK.

Hennessey said: “The land at [Newtongrange] bowling club is absolutely unbelievable. It’s an ideal location. It is secluded, easily accessible, but private and security fenced.

“The idea is to appoint an experienced person who knows about bees to look after them.”

Bowling club member and former miner Frank Sullivan, 68, from Newtongrange, who worked at the Lady Victoria colliery for 12 years, said: “I think it’s a really good thing, but it’s unusual for a bowling club to have beehives.

“I’ll be very interested to see them for the first time in their new home.”