Behind the veil: Graham Royle
Graham Royle really does not need any introduction. However, having introduced the previous interviewees on these pages in the past, I cannot write nothing!
As Pam announced in her column, Graham has just been elected as Vice Chairman of the Association. The poor man seems to be collecting jobs: he has already taken on the offices of Disease Liaison Officer, Examination Secretary and Chair of the Education Sub-Committee, as well as everybody’s favourite speaker and supplier of equipment, bees and good advice! Graham is only the third beekeeper in Cheshire, and one of very few in the whole country, to have obtained the NDB—the National Diploma in Beekeeping—the highest beekeeping qualification there is.
So, Graham, for most of us, you have been beekeeping for ever. But there must have been a beginning! How did you come to beekeeping?
Stockport Beekeepers were demonstrating bees at a Spring fair at Tatton park in 1987. They had an observation hive which I found fascinating. My father in law kept bees, and used to talk about them from time to time, but I never had the opportunity to look at his bees with him.
So how did you get started?
I got details at Tatton of the program of meetings that Stockport had planned that summer. They had four apiary meetings planned, all at Derek Lockett’s apiary at Whiteley Green. I went along to the first of those meetings and watched while someone opened a hive of bees. I didn’t have a veil - all the other beekeepers did (they didn’t have spare veils for visitors in those days). Needless to say, I got stung - just below my left eye! Jim Tucker rushed over to extract the sting. I bought a veil before the next meeting and I was hooked. I went to all the meetings that summer, and the indoor meetings at Dialstone through the following winter. The following summer during a family trip to my in-laws in Yorkshire my father-in-law told me he had something for me in the garden. It was a swarm which he had collected and hived. This presented a bit of a problem – how was I going to get them home? He solved this by lending me his roof rack, so late in the evening we tied the hive to the roof rack on my Vauxhall Cavalier and I drove home across the Pennines on the M62 with my family in the car and the bees on the roof. This was my first colony.
Who or what influenced the way in which you keep bees?
There were no courses for beginners when I started so I relied on books, primarily Ted Hooper’s ‘Bees and Honey’ and on what I learnt from the Stockport Branch meetings and members—especially Jim Tucker, Peter Rains, Malcolm Thorpe and Janet Beech.
How did your beekeeping develop?
Looking back there are several key events which have influenced the direction of my beekeeping.
The first was my decision in 1996 to take the BBKA examinations. By then I felt I had learnt how to keep bees, but I wanted to learn more and decided that the BBKA examinations might be a good way to do this. At that time in Cheshire the only member involved with the exams was Tim Kidman – how things have changed! What I learnt whilst studying was how little I knew!
In 1998, Janet Beech asked me to give a talk to the Stockport branch - this was the beginning of my speaking career. Later that year I was asked to speak at the CBKA Autumn convention where my topic was ‘The Beekeeper’s Millennium Bug’ and since then the requests for me to give talks have increased year on year. This year I already have 46 talks booked in locations ranging from Surrey to Aberdeen.
In 1999 Derek Lockett asked me if I would keep an eye on his bees at Whiteley Green while he went on holiday to Scotland. The following year I moved a colony from home to Whiteley and I have shared the apiary with Derek ever since. We work well together, we have both learnt a lot from each other and we have become close friends. I could never have imagined, when I went to my first beekeeping meeting and got my first sting that I would be sharing the apiary with Derek.
Also in 1999 I attended the Advanced Beekeeping course held at the NBU in York. This is a one week residential course organised by the National Diploma Board. I wasn’t interested at that time in the National Diploma, but really liked the idea of spending a full week beekeeping, learning new techniques from experts in their field. I’m now involved with the running of this course each year, and Gill is also involved helping with catering for the students.
Are there any high points or disasters you want to tell about?
For me, the highlight of every beekeeping year is the first inspection. After not being able to inspect the bees all winter I can’t wait to open the colonies and see how they are developing. I never cease to be amazed by the organisation of the colony, the beauty of the combs, the industry of the bees.
I have had my fair share of disasters. My first colony swarmed in its second year, because I hadn’t given it enough room to expand. Then there was the swarm I collected from Gawsworth in 1996 that resulted in the arrival of varroa in my apiary. Not to forget the batch of queen cells I left one day too long so that one queen emerged and destroyed all the others. There are many more but it is only by making these sorts of mistakes that we learn how to do things better.
What about the future of beekeeping?
Beekeeping is going through a period of rapid change. The problems with varroa and the poor weather in recent years have changed the way we have to keep our bees. It has become more difficult, more challenging to keep them alive and produce good honey crops. Add to this the massive interest in bees and beekeeping as demonstrated by the ever increasing demand for beginner’s courses and it is clear that the future of beekeeping is going to be very different from the recent past. This isn’t the first time there has been a change in direction within the craft of beekeeping. At the beginning of the 20th C there was the so-called Isle of Wight disease, which caused heavy colony losses. In the middle of the 19th C there was the discovery of bee space, and the move from skeps to moveable frame hives which must have seemed revolutionary at the time.
How do you see the future of the Cheshire BKA?
We are fortunate in the Cheshire BKA having an association made up of four strong branches. I’m really encouraged this year to see that, for the first time, all the branches are rising to the challenge to accommodate the growing number of new beekeepers by organising beginners’ courses. It is important for the future of beekeeping in Cheshire that CBKA helps all its members, both new beekeepers and existing members to learn how to keep their colonies healthy and to improve their beekeeping skills. But above all we should have fun doing what we enjoy most, managing our bees.
Graham Royle was talking to Pete Sutcliffe