Despite long held concerns over a decline in the number of bees across the country, rural estates are reporting a proliferation in bees present on moorland as they access Scotland’s iconic heather, something welcomed by the Scottish Beekeepers Association.
Heather moorland is most prominent on grouse managed moorland, where heather is a central part of the red grouse’s diet. Around 75% of the world’s heather is in the UK, with the majority of that on moors in Scotland. Beekeepers are positioning their hives on Scottish estates – to increase the production of heather honey, fast becoming a famed Scottish food product to rival the acclaimed Manuka honey.
On two estates in the Lammermuir Hills – Hopes Estate and Mayshiel Estate – hives are placed every August and September. The honeybees access the heather, producing a unique type of honey that contains three sugars instead of the standard two. Later in the year, the hives are moved from the estate in order for honey production to begin, soon to hit the shelves at home and abroad.
Ian Elliott, head gamekeeper at Hopes Estate said: “The moorland heather, which is maintained to the highest standard as part of the integrated management of the estate, is favoured by beekeepers due to its rotational renewal. We have hosted hives on the moor for decades and it adds another layer of biodiversity to the estate. We are delighted to work in partnership with local honey producers and it is exciting from our point of view that we can play a small role in creating a Scottish food product that is in demand around the world.”
For Stuart Hood, owner of Hood’s Honey, the partnership is vital to the success of his business. Stuart said: “The estates have always been very welcoming to us and without the access to the heather then our business would not be thriving in the manner that it is. We produce three types of honey per annum but the heather honey is our crucial crop of the year. Without the work of the gamekeepers, we wouldn’t be able to achieve this. It is often said that grouse shooting estates are inaccessible or are solely there for the grouse. It certainly isn’t the case in my experience, and the gamekeepers work hard to ensure that everything can flourish on the estates – including the heather for our bees.
“Despite the perception that estates are set apart from the community, nothing could be further from the truth for us. Everyone from the owners to gamekeepers to other estate staff are keen to see our business, and others in the community, flourish.”