Meet Tom, the 16-year-old Shropshire beekeeper

Meet Tom, the 16-year-old Shropshire beekeeper

When Tom Oliver first saw the people in the funny white suits and pointy hats in his garden at Bayston Hill, he was terrified.

"I thought aliens were invading," says Tom, now 16. "Or so I'm told - I was so young I don't quite remember it."

It turns out the aliens in question were his grandparents, John and Margaret, 81, who live next door. They were wearing their beekeeping suits - a familiar sight as they had kept bees in the orchard here for 50 years.

Today young Tom is taking over his grandparents' beekeeping hobby and is one of the youngest beekeeping students with the North Shropshire Beekeepers' Association.

Tom is continuing a tradition which in his grandfather's day was much more popular.

During the war, bees were allocated sugar rations to sustain their populations - a move which saw numbers of beekeepers suddenly proliferate, with the added attraction of keepers craftily hiving off some of the sugar for themselves. Allegedly.

But interest in Shropshire is returning, although, as Tom says, most keeping students are in their late 30s and early 40s.

"My grandfather stopped keeping honey bees seven years ago after 50 years here alone. He still had the hives and two years ago I thought I would give it a go," explains Tom.

"He recommended that I went to North Shropshire Beekeepers' Association. I went for a day and immediately loved it."

Important

For his 15th birthday he was given his first hive of bees and that year he split it into two hives. Today he has three and from the beekeepers' association he is learning all the tricks of a trade that has become increasingly important in recent years.

One in three mouthfuls of the food we eat is dependent on pollination at a time when bee populations are under threat from a disease called varroatosis carried by the parasite varroa.

Despite being in the middle of his exams back in May, Tom still found time for the honey harvest from his bees feasting on rape-seed oil, and is now expecting another bumper crop.

And aside from jarring it up for cooking and eating with, there are other benefits for Tom's honey. His hobby has also inspired his stepmother Deryn to extend her beauty therapy business into making her own natural bath and body product range called Fabulous. She says: "I was thinking about the uses of beeswax and honey and started by making my own lip balms.

"These were so popular with friends and family that I extended the range and now sell to my clients and from The Lythhill Stores in Bayston Hill."

Grandfather John says he is proud that Tom is continuing the family tradition that is important for bee populations worldwide.

Later, talking bees, they get to comparing their stings. Says John: "I remember a cold and thundery day - and bees don't like cold and thundery - and we went out to the hives and got stung. I was running up and down the hall shaking bees out of my trousers. That was 40 years ago, mind. He adds: "I was stung in the ear the other day and my wife managed to get it out - it doesn't bother you in the slightest."

Adds Tom: "I always remember seeing my grandparents dressed up in overalls and old fashioned beekeeping hats and was fascinated with the whole process. "My suit is a bit more bee-proof than theirs though so I avoid getting stung too much."

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