look after bees for people all over London,” says director of Capital Bee Camilla Goddard. As part of her ethical business she visits hotels, schools, property companies and charities, and maintains the hives they keep.
“What’s nice about The Quakers is it’s not all about the honey and how much is produced,” she says. “They just really care about the insects. They’re coming from a good place and are really supportive.”
It’s a gloriously sunny Friday morning as we ride up in the lift of their Euston Road building, step out onto the roof, and admire the panoramic city views. Then Camilla hands me an all-in-one, head-to-toe, zip-up suit, complete with mesh veil to protect my face.
With a degree of trepidation, I step in, before slipping on a pair of gloves to cover the only part of my body that remains exposed and approaching the pair of hives that are kept up there.They look rather unassuming – yet inside, a total of up to eighty thousand pollinators reside, split between two colonies. “It varies massively on the year and usually goes in cycles,” says Camilla. “If it rains for too much of June, that’s not great. 2019 has been quite good because we had a warm spell in May.”
Taking one of the frames – the structural element that holds the honeycomb – from Camilla, I get an up-close look at the unique creatures, feeling more relaxed than I anticipated, despite the persistent
During her weekly visits, Camilla ensures that things look healthy. “I check whether the queen is present and laying properly,” she says. “Are there signs of swarming, have they got any disease, are there are hornets or wasps hanging around? It’s like spinning plates – all the time we’re trying to keep them in the best health.”
This is a busy time for Camilla. “It’s very seasonal,” she says. “At the moment I’m working most days and weekends through to the end of July, by which point most of the nectar flow has occurred. Then the
honey is sealed, before being taken off in August – most production is over by then. It’s quiet from November to February.”
Before taking this career path Camilla worked in the arts for a decade. She started to notice that all of her projects were going environmental and began to get interested in that side of things. “I ended up buying a wood with a friend and we kept bees there,” she says.
“Then I started keeping them at a church and a park. The council asked if I could collect swarms for them, and community gardens wanted me to teach a course. It just grew organically from there; it’s not what I planned at all.”And she’s passionate about local councils planting more bee-friendly linden trees. “That’s one thing I’m always trying to get across,” she says. “Don’t just think of lavender, it’s about the whole spectrum.”
And what about the taste of the end product? “Here in central London you usually get a citrus, floral, sweet flavour in the summer,” says Camilla. “As the year goes on, it can get darker and caramelly. It varies depending on the weather and what’s flowering at the time.”
UCL tested theirs and found it contained fifty different types of plants and a lot of trees. “People don’t realise how important they are,” says Camilla.
Pollution doesn’t seem to have an effect, either. Camilla sent a sample to a French organisation, who analysed it and found it hadn’t picked up any. “The flower protects the nectar inside, so it’s not exposed,” she says.
Disrobing, I feel a sense of relief, admiration for the work Camilla and Capital Bee does – and respect for the Quakers’ sustainability policy.
Main image: Laura Evans