Behind the veil: Derek Lockett
Continuing our progress higher up the echelons of our association, we come to an ex-President and ex-Chairman who spent nearly a quarter of a century in those top offices. Derek is a founder-member of the Stockport Branch, still a very active beekeeper, and a wise head at committee meetings.
We’ll start with the usual question—how did you come to beekeeping?
Through the encouragement of my son, really. He won a scholarship to Kings, and we went along to an open day there. They had an observation hive in one of the labs, and John said “Why don’t we keep bees, Dad?” I had always been interested in such things, so I didn’t need much urging. Unfortunately, we soon found that my son was allergic to bee-stings—he didn’t just swell up, he went pale and felt faint. The doctor said he would either have to go through the long, painful series of inoculations to desensitise him, or he would have to steer clear of bees! He had been really put off by now, so he chose the latter. I, however, had got hooked!
At that time we lived in a flat above the Cheshire Building Society in Castle Street in Macclesfield, so my first lot of bees were in three hives on the roof! We got some very nice honey from them there. However it was not without incident. I got rung up at work one day to be told that there was a swarm of bees hanging from the clock at the front of the building. The staff had been wondering why they didn’t have any customers! My boss was very good about it and allowed me to go off to collect them. It became a running joke, of course, although that only happened once.
Almost immediately after, we moved to Oxford Road, where we had hives in the garden. It soon became clear to me that I wanted more hives than we could accommodate there, so I looked around for an apiary elsewhere. Cedric Titterton, who was the chairman of the Stockport Branch for some time, was a good friend of mine. He looked around for me and found part of a farmer’s land which wasn’t used - and I’ve had my bees there ever since. I used to pay the farmer half a dozen pots of honey a year. I don’t any more because the farm has changed hands several times since then (it is a tenanted farm) and the farmers have never shown any interest in the plot. In fact there was a funny incident years ago when it appeared that I had almost established ownership of the land through being a squatter there for over twenty years! I have got the permission of the land-owner to stop there as a free tenant as long as I want to.
So this is the famous Whiteley Green Apiary?!
Yes, and how many blessed hours of sanctuary I have had there! Margaret appreciated it because she never had any trouble with the bees at home. Our Whiteley Green neighbour, Mary, has been there ten years, and can read the signs now. If she rings up and says I ought to come and look at them, you can be sure I’ll find them swarming when I get there. And of course I now share the apiary with Graham Royle, which is a blessing for me—we make a good team, I think.
So was Graham your student, or apprentice, to begin with?
Good heavens no! More the other way round. I have learned a lot from Graham. He is a very enthusiastic beekeeper, and I could not manage my bees without his help. He first came to a meeting at Whiteley Green after attending a beginners’ course at Stockport. I found that he lived nearby and our friendship developed from then on. He is a great asset to the Cheshire BKA
How does beekeeping now compare with your early years?
Well, this has been the worst year ever in my beekeeping experience. Of course, I had a couple of hiccups in the early years because of my inexperience, but this year I had only 60lbs of honey and that turned out to have too high a water content so I can’t sell it. Graham only had two rounds of queen rearing—he usually has six or seven. I worry about what will happen to beekeeping: unless we are able to do something about it, varroa will take over and that will be the end of the bees. Graham and I are treating this week (November 1st) with oxalic acid. We used to treat them at the turn of year before, but that’s too late now.
How does your wife take to being a beekeeper’s spouse?
Without Margaret, I could never have done what I have done. We have been together for more than fifty years. Margaret has never actually handled the bees, but she has always actively supported the beekeeping. She was on the committee for a while, and has regularly shown honey products—she has won the Hancock Trophy more than anyone else, I reckon.
I have never been much of one for shows. As a young man I was a competitive swimmer. Now there, if you come in first, everybody can see that you’ve won. But judging honey is always a subjective affair. The judge’s opinion or prejudice is paramount—maybe the taste isn’t right or the consistency. Honey shows are good things—at their best they encourage us towards better beekeeping, but all too often the criteria have strayed away from those original goals and no longer have anything to do with good beekeeping or good honey-production. Preference for smooth-grained granulation means that oil seed rape honey will always win—it is not the best granulated honey in terms of taste, however!
How about your association with Cheshire Beekeepers?
I joined in 67 as soon as I started keeping bees. In those days there was only the Wirral Branch—otherwise all meetings were for the whole county. A convention was a whole-day event. We would leave home at 9 in the morning and not be back until evening. There were two big venues: one was Frank Griffiths’, and the other was the Van Suchtelens’ home. Those two couples did an awful lot for Cheshire.
Now of course the activities are centred on the Branches, but I think it is still important for us to function as a whole-county association. We still benefit from belonging to a large association, with the potential that implies. Cheshire BKA is listened to, for example, at national level. We have for some years campaigned for compulsory registration for all beekeepers. Now, since the latest scare, it seems as if we might be close to achieving this. I always wonder about people who are against registration - what have they got to hide?
How do you feel about the future of beekeeping?
Rather despondent, to tell the truth. I once collected five swarms in one day—that would not happen now—feral colonies are doomed. Honey-bees are now dependent on man for their survival—not a position anyone would wish on them! Now, at last, people are realising how dependent we are on bees. Maybe we can help the bees to adapt to varroa somehow. Having lumbered them with this pest, it is our responsibility to help them deal with it.
Derek Lockett was talking to Pete Sutcliffe