Back in 2021, we put more than 600 beehives – which are home to 30 million bees – on 25 British M&S Select Farms. This operation has now grown to more than 1,000 beehives across 30 British M&S Select Farms. These busy bees are helping us produce our exclusive Collection Single Apiary Select Farm British honey. Because we are harvesting from different farms, where the bees have foraged on everything from cherry trees to courgettes, the honey comes in lots of different colours and unique flavours.
Honeybees are important pollinators. By introducing British honeybees to M&S Select Farms, we’re supporting local British honey production and our Select Farms to pollinate their crops. Our work with honeybees is only part of the story.
Experienced beekeeper David Wainwright has been producing top-quality honey for M&S for more than 10 years. After visiting the M&S Select Farms, David and his teams placed their cedarwood beehives – many of which date back to the 1930s – in carefully chosen locations, ensuring they have plenty of shelter and sources of nectar nearby. “The farms grow crops that benefit from the bees, including courgettes, apples, berries, beans and more. The farmers get a higher yield and better quality, since the plants will have been properly pollinated,” says David.
Each hive has ‘scout’ bees that find the best sources of nectar and pollen from which to forage. Because the farms are so diverse, these could range from dandelions to apple and pear orchards, bluebell woods, sycamore and hawthorn trees, cherries and gooseberries, blackcurrants and beans – all of which will give each honey its own distinct flavour profile. The bees gather their nectar and bring it back to the hives and start filling honeycombs. In the evening, they use their wings to fan the nectar, evaporating moisture and concentrating the liquid to make honey.
Honeybees and bumblebees may seem like the same thing, yet honeybees are in fact domesticated in the UK and usually managed by an expert beekeeper, such as David Wainwright. Bumblebees on the other hand are wild. David says, "You can also usually tell them apart because bumblebees are big, round and furry, but honeybees are smaller, slimmer and much less hairy."
Wild bees, such as bumblebees and solitary bees, work hard pollinating our crops and wildflowers for free, so more wildflowers can grow, and we can enjoy delicious foods like tomatoes and blueberries. However, our native bumblebees are struggling because they do not have enough flowers to feed on. Fortunately, there are lots of quick, simple and fun things you can do to make your local area more bumblebee-friendly. We’ve shared some ideas from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which is leading a campaign called ‘Bee the Change’, highlighting the vital importance of these wild pollinators and the ways in which we can help them.
Add one bumblebee-friendly plant to your outdoor space – whether you have flowerpots, a window box, hanging baskets or a traditional flower bed. Your local garden centre will be able to help you pick.
Make space for bumblebee nests by leaving ‘untidy’ areas in your garden: let patches of grass grow longer and wild, or start a compost heap.
Put the ‘Bee the Change’ poster in your window to inspire even more people to help bumblebees, or have fun designing your own.
People of all ages can have fun spotting bumblebees over the summer and learning about the different species – download your handy ID guide.
Farmers play an important role in protecting pollinators. Read about some of our brilliant growers and what they are doing to protect pollinators. M&S already asks all UK growers to be LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Marque certified. This requires them, for example, to provide food for bees and pollinators on their farms. With the support of LEAF, over the coming years we are delivering a programme for all M&S growers in the UK, aiming to enhance nature-friendly outcomes that will see all growers monitoring pollinators, managing a minimum of 5% habitat area on their farms for wildlife and demonstrating a reduced reliance on pesticides. We are also working with expert partners and growers to test and learn innovative pollinator-friendly farming methods, like planting wildflowers inside strawberry polytunnels.
We are passionate about continuing to support and grow British beekeeping. To do that we understand it is important to produce honey responsibly and to avoid any negative impact on wild pollinators. Together with Fera’s National Bee Unit and in consultation with leading NGOs and experts, we are working on a Responsible Honeybee Farming Standard, which we believe will be the first of its kind.
We are also working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and supporting them to help further educate the nation (and ourselves) on all we can do to boost the future of wild bees in the UK.