Student beekeepers play their part in protecting one of Earth’s most important pollinators

Tucked behind the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, surrounded by a pair of fencesone chain-link, one electriclive tens of thousands of bees. Specifically, they are Italian honeybees, a species of bee known for its high honey production and gentle nature. There, behind the Center, these bees live in what look like sets of old white filing cabinets but are in fact thriving hives containing whole ecosystems.

These hives are cared for and maintained by a group of passionate and eager students who are working toward establishing a new beekeeping club at Lees-McRae. While these hives are new to Lees-McRae, they are not the college’s first bees. The campus bee club existed in a previous form several years ago and efforts to revive it began just this summer.

Working with beehives teaches students about animal husbandry and conservation, and the honey produced by the hives gives the club members a way to give back to the Center. Thanks to its natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, honey makes an excellent treatment for minor cuts and scrapes, and some of the honey produced by the club’s hives will return directly to the center and be used in the treatment and rehabilitation of its patients.

While being in the club presents plenty of benefits to students, the campus bee club is also great for the local ecosystem. The bees who live in the club’s hives pollinate flowers and other plants a mile or more away from their hive, supporting plant life across campus and around Banner Elk. These bees, like all bees, play an incredibly important role in the world around us.

Honey production is just one important aspect of the many ways that bees positively impact our world. MedicalNewsToday explains that “in recent years, it has become clear that honey may not be the most important reason to protect bees. This is because bees play a crucial role in pollination, where they use the hairs on their bodies to carry large grains of pollen between plants. Around 75% of crops produce better yields if animals help them pollinate. Of all animals, bees are the most dominant pollinators of wild and crop plants. They visit over 90% of the world’s top 107 crops.”

As vital as bees are to the health of our planet and ourselves, they don’t always receive the credit and protection they deserve, and all species of bees face numerous threats. Short-term threats like diseases, parasites, and pesticides can sometimes be mediated by comprehensive and attentive beekeeping practices, but long-term threats such as climate change, habitat loss, and invasive species can cause devastation among bee populations around the world. According to the Paleontological Research Institute’s Museum of the Earth, one species of bees in North America is already extinct, with the population of four additional species on the decline.

“Bees are in trouble on our planet, so anytime we can have bees and encourage bees, and educate people about bees it’s helpful for the planet, because without bees we would all die,” Director of the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and faculty advisor for the campus bee club Nina Fischesser said.

Nurturing and caring for beehives on campus is much more than an educational experience for the students who are a part of the club, rather, this is an opportunity to play a part in protecting one of the most important creatures in our ecosystem. More than delicious honey, the Lees-McRae beekeepers are invested in the world around them and in making the ecosystem in Banner Elk healthier and more balanced for all creatures.

By Maya JarrellAugust 25, 2023
AcademicsCampus Life