World Bee Day? Yes, it’s official. On the 20th December 2017 the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 20th May World Bee Day. Every year on this day the global public will have their attention focussed on the importance of preserving honey bees and all other pollinators, and people will be reminded of the significance of bees in providing for the needs of humanity. They will also be invited to take positive action to preserve and protect pollinators.

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All UN member states supported the resolution with 115 states effectively becoming co-sponsors.

Along with many other leading world figures, Pope Francis 1, current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, declared that he welcomed the World Bee Day initiative which is all about raising awareness of the importance of bees and apicultural products. It is about protecting and supporting bees alongside the beekeeping sector. Equally important is actively contributing towards alleviating global poverty and eradicating hunger whilst preserving a healthy environment and its biodiversity.

The idea for a World Bee Day was conceived at 06:30 hours on September 15 2014. Slovenian beekeeper Bostjan Noc was driving to work, at The Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association where he is president, listening to a radio programme about World Days and their meaning and he wondered why bees didn’t have their own day. Considering that every third spoonful of the world’s food relies on bees and other pollinators, and that bees are increasingly endangered and almost no longer able to survive without human interventions and support, it seemed only right that the global public should be made aware.

It took a tremendous amount of work and effort to make it happen but, with the support of Slovenian beekeepers and government departments, three years later Bostjan’s seemingly unattainable goal was achieved.

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Carniolan Honey Bees. Photo: Ann Chilcott 

Placed in the centre of Europe and sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary, Slovenia is one of the top beekeeping countries in the world with every 200th inhabitant a beekeeper. For tens of thousands of Slovenian citizens beekeeping is a way of life with a very long tradition and its importance is also seen in the beautifully painted hives which are commonplace in that country. This country is home to Apis mellifera carnica, the Carniolan bee which developed 10,000 years ago in the valleys of the Karavanke mountain range on both sides of the border between Austria and Slovenia.

Slovenia became one of the first countries in the EU to prohibit the use of certain pesticides harmful to bees which reflects the genuine respect for bees at all levels, from government down, in that country.

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Painted Hive Depicting the Beauty of Rural Slovenia. Photo: Matic Stojs

May was the chosen month for World Bee Day because in the northern hemisphere the need for pollination is greatest during that period, whilst in the southern hemisphere it is a time for harvesting honey and bee products. The Slovenians honoured their national beekeeping “treasure” Anton Janša (1734-1773) by choosing his birthday, May 20th, to celebrate World Bee Day.

Janša was a pioneer of modern beekeeping and one of the greatest experts of his time. Appointed by Austrian empress Maria Theresa in 1770 to prestigious employment as the imperial and royal beekeeping teacher based at a new beekeeping school in Vienna, Janša became the first beekeeping teacher in the world. His teaching remit also involved travelling around the country. He shared his knowledge of bees through writing beekeeping books and his students followed his teachings in various new beekeeping schools which were set up throughout Austria.

It was common practice at that time to kill off most of the bee colonies before winter and then harvest their honey but Janša wrote in one of his books, “I do not kill bees to get honey and wax. I keep them strong and healthy, so they will bring me honey again next year.”

We have come full cycle back to focussing on sustainable living and I’m sure that Janša would approve of our endeavours.

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This article was first published in Smallholder magazine. Subscribe here or ask your local newsagent for a copy.