Welcome to East Devon Beekeepers from Hilary Kirkcaldie, President.
East Devon Beekeepers are a branch of Devon Beekeepers’ Association. We are a thriving, friendly group providing education and support to both experienced and new beekeepers in the East Devon area.
Our winter meetings are held in Kilmington Village Hall (EX13 7RF) and summer meetings are held at the Branch Apiary (EX13 5RJ) not far from Kilmington. We currently have around 300 members.
Please browse the website to see some of the activities we engage in throughout the year.
For more information and membership details follow the link to the Contacts Page
Who we are and what we do
East Devon Beekeepers branch has a membership of circa 300 and covers an area from Lyme Regis to Exmouth, Chard to Cullompton. Our HQ and Branch Apiary are based near Axminster at Hunthay. That is today. But what of our beginnings?
East Devon branch began life as the Uplyme branch in 1929. Meetings took place in beekeepers’ gardens as opposed to any designated site in Uplyme. Later, the name changed to Uplyme and District and by 1957 was called the Uplyme, Axminster and Honiton branch. From these beginnings the metamorphosis into East Devon Beekeepers took place, but for some years the Uplyme title still lingered.
Once Axminster was involved, and well into the seventies, winter meetings with invited guests and speakers took place initially at St John’s Ambulance Station in the town and subsequently at the Parish Room. Summer meetings still took the form of practical demonstrations in members’ apiaries followed by cake and tea – a recurring theme! The then leading light was Fred Barratt who had worked a great deal with Ted Hooper (of Bees and Honey fame) and was a very knowledgeable and expert beekeeper.
Back in the seventies, many local children were introduced to beekeeping via the Agricultural Science classes at Axminster Secondary School, which were taught by our very own David Wiscombe, (of Beekeeping for Dummies fame) but at some point, the powers that be removed this practical course from the curriculum. To plug the gap and help educate those who had expressed a wish to take up beekeeping, the branch began to run classes. Frank Taylor was a leading exponent of this initiative which has expanded into the programme we offer to beginners today.
Around 1976 the feeling arose that there would be benefits in having a ‘branch’ apiary. The first site was at Summerleaze Farm, then Hawkchurch and finally by the late nineties to Hunthay where we remain today. The branch operated out of a draughty barn for meetings and stored equipment in an old railway carriage right up until 2015 when a new agricultural storage facility was built on the site that became our ‘Beeshed’. For that, we are indebted to Bill and Jenny and David Newbury at Hunthay farm.
Now in 2022 we are still enjoying the benefits of our facilities. Our apiary team manages anything between 10 and 24 hives throughout the year and meets every Thursday morning in the summer to carry out routine inspections and perform necessary manoeuvres. We essentially have a teaching apiary which serves our beginners when they reach the practical stage of their beginners’ course and ‘hands on’ teaching takes the place of the theory over the summer months.
Along with a large shipping container, we also house all our equipment and conduct our regular cleaning days on site. These are merry occasions accompanied by delicious home baked cakes and tea, all of which helps to make the messy, tedious task of scraping and torching of boxes, cutting out comb and feeding the wax melter more palatable. Volunteering for this necessary messy adventure is something that has to be worked on and dress code is definitely overalls!
Our beginners’ course (usually amounting to 40 newbies) runs annually from late January to April for the basic teaching theory followed by hive opening and bee handling May to September. We source all our speakers from the branch and each beginner is assigned their own mentor to continue their training through their first year. Keenest members go on to take their Basic assessment and then Modules.
On the first Thursday of the month, we hold our winter talks from October through to April in Kilmington Village Hall. Subject matter targets experienced beekeepers as well as newbies and can range from bee anatomy, to drone congregation areas, to just a talk on something loosely related to beekeeping such as roadside biodiversity or bumblebees.
Our Christmas social usually involves a more light-hearted but bee related theme such as a quiz or members demonstrating their latest homemade gadgets. Festive food, a Christmas themed raffle and a sprinkling of tinsel and Santa hats complete the scene.
We have a 16 strong committee and endeavour to bring in new blood (and youth if possible) at each AGM in order to maintain momentum and share fresh ideas. 20 swarm collectors just about cover most of East Devon. We have a gardening team to keep the apiary grass in trim, thus enabling comfortable and safe access to the hives, and practical folk amongst us find broken equipment sent their way – our own ‘Repair Shop’ you might say.
Communication is key to keeping members ‘in the loop’. Getting to know beginners and maintaining communication with all those who have gone before, creates a friendly, cooperative group. Our communication lines operate through the monthly newsletter (Buzz), mailing out summer and winter programmes in advance, keeping our informative website up to date and not forgetting our postal members. Over the last eighteen months our private Facebook group has been in operation as well.
We take the beekeeping message out to the general public at local shows – notably Honiton and Axe Vale. We send out speakers to WI groups, primary schools and gardening clubs along with brownies and cubs where we are always received most warmly.
We have an annual, alternative link for our January talk with West Dorset branch and combine with Exeter branch for the Honiton Show. Those of you who have visited similar shows will know there is a cookery aspect to the competitions and we hold a ‘mock’ Honiton Show cookery competition when our own Great British Bake Off takes place with beginners entering their self-made honey cakes to be displayed, judged, of course sampled and subsequently awarded.
Obviously the past two years have impacted on how we have done things, but by reducing numbers, applying necessary Covid restrictions and of course Zooming we have kept going just like other branches.
Anyone who is a Devon Beekeepers’ Association member wishing to attend any of our talks is most welcome. Beekeeping has no boundaries other than those we impose for convenience. Sharing and caring for ourselves and our bees is the name of the game.
Val Bone, Secretary, with contributions from Hilary Kirkcaldie, President.
We are East Devon Beekeepers