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Checking on the bees at Cracoe and Rylstone Primary School

Quarry helps children become beekeepers

Friday 1 September, 2023, by Andrew Fagg

**This feature article first appeared in the Craven Herald & Pioneer on Thurs 31 August 2023. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority administers the Swinden Quarry Natural Environment Fund.  Media Officer Andrew Fagg reports on the latest project to receive a grant.

From the honey bee hives at Cracoe and Rylstone Primary School you can see Swinden Quarry less than a mile away to the north.

Or at least, you can hear it.  Daisy O’Sullivan, one of four pupil beekeepers at the school, told me so.

“Sometimes you can hear the blow up sirens going off. Sometimes you can hear the big explosions in the quarry.  I can hear them from my house and from school,” she said. 

“With the wagons, they are respectful of people living in Cracoe, because they’ve stopped to let me and my sister over the road to get to school quite a few times. So they are mindful of people crossing the road.”

Another pupil taking part in the school’s beekeeping project, which is supported by the Swinden Quarry Natural Environment Fund, is Alfie Jackson.

He said:  “Yes it is a part of my life because my dad works for Swinden Quarry. When I was doing my chickens yesterday night, I saw a wagon come past that were beeping the horn – a Tarmac wagon – and it was my dad.”

Much of the limestone won from Swinden Quarry is now taken to market by rail and this was noted by a third beekeeping pupil, Tom Butcher.

He said:  “The quarry train goes through our fields.  It can make me late for school.  When I’m already late it makes me five minutes more!”

For teacher Glenda Cumberland, the Swinden Quarry Natural Environment Fund is a great way for quarry firm Tarmac to support local biodiversity enhancement.  Stood in the school’s wildlife and vegetable garden, she picked up on the children’s remarks: 

“That’s why re-wilding this area is so important, because that road is literally ten metres from the hive, so making it as wild and beautiful as we can is really important when the quarry is so intimate with our life here. The fund has enabled us to enrich our learning.”

Tom Butcher, Daisy O'Sullivan, Alfie Jackson and Ellie Cramer with their teacher Glenda Cumberland
Tom Butcher, Daisy O’Sullivan, Alfie Jackson and Ellie Cramer with their teacher Glenda Cumberland

I asked her to tell the story of the project.

“I’m passionate about outdoor education, so when I arrived three years ago I applied for grant from the Mukherjee Trust and they gave us some money to get the pond at the centre of the garden, the apple and plum trees, and the first hive,” she said.

“Then we met some people who said, ‘We’ll teach you how to keep bees’. They were Jo and Laurie Prowse, local people from the Upper Wharfedale Field Society. And they are bee keepers. They trained the children and they are amazing people, they’ve taught us so much.  With the Swinden Quarry fund grant, we’ve got the new hive and the new colony of bees that we are just beginning to learn about.  And we’ve also got more than 500 native wildflower plug plants from the fund and we spent a long time planting them around the garden. The whole school was involved.”

When I visited on a Thursday evening near the end of the summer term, Miss Cumberland and her charges were carrying out their weekly check on the hives.  It’s a good job they did, for in one of the hives they found that the queen bee had laid a ‘queen cup’.

Miss Cumberland explained:  “In the hive there was a queen cup, which is basically a crib for an egg which is going to produce another queen.  A colony can’t sustain two queens, so if we allowed that queen to hatch there would be a fight and half the colony would swarm and go and then you’d have a weakened colony.  So today we removed the queen cup.”

Despite the children wafting a bee smoker, I got a little too close while taking photographs.  A bee came after me and as I flapped it stung me just above my left eyebrow.  It didn’t hurt much, but it led me to ask the children for safety tips. 

Checking on the bees at Cracoe and Rylstone Primary School
Checking on the bees at Cracoe and Rylstone Primary School

Alfie said:  “When the wind blows about really fast, it gets them stressed and you have to use the smoke blower which calms the bees down.”

Daisy said: “Another key is to be calm around the bees, because they can really sense your fear. If a bee starts buzzing round your head, just leave it.  Be mindful of it but don’t like try to swot it away.”

Tom added:  “They are a little thing. They can barely do anything to you.  It won’t sting unless it really feels the need, because otherwise it would lose its life.”

The bee keeping lessons had clearly delighted the children.

“I think it was something like six sessions and it took a whole term to do it. We had to stay about an hour and half after school,” said Daisy.

“I’ve enjoyed learning the stuff about bees, like I didn’t know there could be up to 30,000 bees in a hive. Some of the facts are just too good to be true.  To think there’s like a thousand hives in the world. That would be like 30 million bees in the world. And their lifetimes are so short, they only last about six weeks.  Without the bees pollinating plants we would lose three quarters of our food.” 

At the end of the summer term the children held a garden open day, selling some of the vegetables they had grown.  When they return to school this month they are expecting to be able to harvest honey from the two hives and sell pots of it to raise funds for good causes. 

“I’m going to be really proud of the batch of honey we make this year because it’s like, we checked over this hive, we’ve processed the honey,” said Daisy.

The application process for the Swinden Quarry Natural Environment Fund is straightforward.  In Miss Cumberland’s words it is “so, so easy to do”.  

Tarmac puts £30,000 a year into the fund, which the National Park Authority awards in grants. So, if you are from one of the 13 parishes that surround Swinden Quarry and have an idea for a project that would enhance the local environment, please do get in touch. 

Contact our wildlife conservation team on or tel. 01756 751627

Picture of Andrew Fagg

Andrew Fagg

Andrew is the Authority's Media Officer

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