From Little Acorns

It all started at the 2004 Dean Forest AGM. Two thirds of the committee, the secretary, and the chairman, resigned at the meeting leaving only the treasurer who was Jim Vivian-Griffiths. Now who was going to replace these long serving personnel, there were only 19 members after all, and some had not come to the meeting. The result was Marie Toman and I were catapulted into the posts of secretary and chairman.

To add to the rising panic I was informed that the branch apiary, two hives and a shed, had got to be moved from the site in Soudley. I live in Monmouth and had very few contacts in the Forest. Luckily an old member, Ken Jackson offered to ask his cousin if we could site the apiary on his sheep farm and the meeting ended. On the journey home my one thought was at least the secretary was Marie and I knew that she and I would work well together. The first thing we had to do was inspect the old shed to see if it could be moved and to sort out the equipment, some of which was disposed of and some given to members who had WBC’s. Fortunately Ken’s cousin, Henry Mills was willing to let us keep the hives and the shed on his farm. Jim and I visited Henry on his sheep farm at Blakeney and after some discussion found a site for both the hives and the shed.

On two Saturdays in early February 2005 working parties were arranged, the first to take down the shed and take it and the hives to Henry’s where the hives were put onto pallets in the middle of the sheep field and the shed, now in bits, put for repair in another field which Henry used as a hospital field for his sheep. During the week Jim and I renewed the floor supports and the second work party erected the shed on pallets and breeze blocks as Henry didn’t want a permanent structure. The sheep didn’t want one either as our apiary manager, Dave Gooding, found out on numerous occasions when he had to push the shed back onto pallets. Thank goodness Dave only lived a short distance away from Henry’s.

So there we were on a new site, not an ideal one but at least we had breathing space to find what we really wanted but at this time we had very few members and very little money. At the old site we had apiary meetings once a year but it was decided to have them every fortnight. This meant that we could increase the number of hives and we could all help instead of Dave having to do everything. Our meetings were all in the open air and if it rained we got wet and the walk across the very muddy fields. Who will forget leaving ones wellingtons in the muddy glue at the gate!! Also having to be quick to shut it before the sheep and lambs showed us how to deal with mud.

We remained at Henry’s for 2 seasons, and increased to seven colonies. During this time Marie, Jim and I were looking for a better site and we visited an awful lot. Landowners and beekeepers needs being very different and sometimes the site was just no good. Of course our needs were very specific. There had to be parking, room for a shed, away from the public and livestock and no limit on hives. We thought we had found a site on an apple farm but their terms were not what we wanted.

Now comes the best bit in this saga… The Acorn Fund.

We had been looking for funding for some time and had a grant turned down because our bid was too small. So when a long standing member, told us of the Forest of Dean Council community fund, The Acorn Fund, we made a bid for money to purchase land, build a meeting room and storage with mains services – not a small claim this time!!!

To our great delight and surprise we were awarded £5k. We now had something to work with and we had a second stroke of luck. One of our members son’s lived on Lydney Park Estate and we were introduced to the Estate Manager. After looking at a couple of possible places we found the site we now have.

This site was ideal and we spent some money on fences and a gate. The work being carried out by estate staff and we then moved the hives from Henry’s. Although I did ask for volunteers it was Marie, Dave, Jim and I who on a very wet Sunday morning transported the hives, which had increased to seven, across two muddy hilly fields into our cars and onto the new site. We had ordered the shed and Ian Lowton offered to build the base. He did a marvellous job with the help of Jodie and Holly his daughters.

The shed was then delivered and erected very early one morning and the equipment which had been purchased in January and was at the Kymin was stored in the shed.

The official opening was attended by numerous members and now Dean Forest has a really good site and went into the 2009 winter with eighteen colonies. In January 2010 we made enquiries with the Estate to see if we could have an electricity supply to the shed and during our visit we also asked about a large 34 foot caravan on the site next to the apiary. The estate have kindly agreed to our renting it and the story of Dean Forest Apiary goes into another phase.

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