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Welcome to the Naturesave SOLAR BEE Project, our campaign to protect bees and promote community renewable energy.
This project has been funded by The Naturesave Trust and has two key clear campaign objectives:
Firstly – is to help tackle the decline in bee populations which is in part down to the parasitic Varroa mite. The pest is the main source of honeybee colony mortality worldwide and is usually treated with chemicals. Not only is the Varroa developing resistance to chemicals, but there is also evidence of chemical contamination in the honey produced. For this project, The Naturesave Trust has invested in 10 innovative Thermosolar beehives, a new beehive design that uses passive solar gain to elevate the internal hive temperature. This kills off the Varroa and leaves the bees unharmed. It also, importantly, avoids the use of any chemicals. The Solar Bee Project will represent the world’s biggest rollout of thermosolar beehive technology.
The second objective of the campaign is to extend the environmental benefits of community solar farms beyond that of carbon reduction and community ownership. By introducing beehives that require no chemical intervention, we can help solar farms significantly improve onsite biodiversity. Due to their size and the absence of intensive farming, this is something that solar farms have great potential for.
Improving biodiversity can have significant benefits for nature conservation in addition to offering educational benefits on the importance of helping protect our pollinators. The honey produced can be branded by the community energy group and sold locally which further reinforces the benefits of locally produced clean energy. As a result, local communities become more connected to both their energy and ecology.
Why the Community Renewable Energy sector? – Naturesave is not only a market leader in community renewable energy insurance, we also offer grant funding and investment capital via the Naturesave Trust. Currently, the community renewable energy sector plays a key role in tackling one of the most important tasks in society today, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels by decarbonising our energy sector. With this project, we are seeking to add a second environmental benefit, one that has become as important as carbon reduction, and that is biodiversity. Urgent action is now required to mitigate the loss of wildlife across the UK, particularly our pollinators. We believe that solar farms could play a pivotal role in tackling this issue.
How it all started.
The first time the hives were used in the UK, was a project funded in 2017 by the Naturesave Trust at Southill Community Energy in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. The project was a resounding success and inspired The Solar Bee Project, which aims to build on that success by supplying a number of community energy sites across the UK.
The Solar Bee Project
The Trust set up an online application form and called for entries from community solar farms across the UK. The offer was to supply each successful applicant with two Thermosolar Beehives which would be donated by the Naturesave Trust. The Trust teamed up with Tom Worsley of UK Thermosolar, the supplier of the beehives. Tom also provided expert beekeeping advice and helped the team at Naturesave select the most suitable applicants for the project.
Tom and the team chose four community solar farms as the ideal locations for a pair of thermosolar hives. The following community groups were chosen;
- Cuckmere Community Solar
- Plymouth Community Energy
- Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy
- Chelwood Community Energy
Each group has now located a beekeeper and a suitable location for their beehives. The ten thermosolar beehives are currently being installed ready for the bee season. In addition to tasty chemical-free honey, the resident beekeepers will be collecting valuable data which will be shared with the global beekeeping community. The data gathered from all sites will hopefully provide a valuable insight into worldwide bee conservation.
Comments from the field
‘Being selected as part of the Naturesave Solar Bee Project has helped Plymouth Energy Community to extend the environmental and biodiversity benefits of its community solar site at Ernesettle, including by working with local beekeepers to introduce the native black honey bee, and participate in research into the use of the thermosolar hives to counter one of the main threats to honey bees, the Varroa mite and avoid intrusive chemical treatments’.
Jon Selman PEC, Plymouth Energy Community Advisor
‘The Solar Bee project combines innovation, technology, sustainability, and community. Honeybees provide a focal point by encouraging engagement with the local environment which promotes further improvements for all wildlife’.
Jennifer Moore, Beekeeper, Cuckmere Solar
‘The Solar Bee Project represents the world’s biggest rollout of thermosolar beehives and will play a vital role in proving that this new method of beekeeping can help eradicate the Varroa mite without the need for chemicals. Placing the beehives on community solar farms has a wonderful synergy that will highlight how these sites can play a key role in nature conservation in addition to producing clean energy’.
Tom Worsley, Beekeeping expert and founder of Thermosolar UK (supplier of the hives)
‘At Cuckmere Community Solar we are delighted to have been given two solar beehives by the NatureSave Trust. Our hives are thriving and we are looking forward to killing off those pesky Varroa mites with a first solar zapping in the next few weeks as Autumn arrives. This will set the bees up for a good winter and a strong start next Spring, free of a pest that on a human would be the equivalent of the size of a dinner plate!
All of this has generated a wonderful local conversation about bees and insects – not just the honeybees in our hives – and helped to create awareness of our project more generally.
Bees are inspiring and the link between solar power and helping wildlife are obvious – if managed properly, solar farms can become nature reserves and provide a huge boost for our beleaguered wildlife…just today I was there and was astonished by the number of crickets, bees and other insects including some beautiful small azure blue butterflies, birds like the Goldfinch and Yellowhammer, and a big hare.
We are extremely grateful to Naturesave Trust for their inspiration, generosity and leadership in donating these hives and in so doing, helping us to deepen the connection between solar and wildlife. They fully deserve public recognition’.
Dr Alister Scott Chair, Cuckmere Community Solar
The Naturesave Trust is a registered charity – No 1048505.