Telling the Bees


Principal Investigator: Deborah Maxwell
Co-investigators: Niamh Downing, Toby Pillatt
Collaborators: Tay Landscape Partnership
Duration: From 2015 to 2016

Beekeeping is currently experiencing a surge of popularity, coinciding with a rise of localism and a consumer drive for homemade produce. Bees have also become popular subjects of non-fiction prose, literature, poetry and art, in part because their plight has become emblematic of contemporary environmental crises. Whilst a new generation of beekeepers is emerging, the methods by which they learn their skills is changing. As a highly mythologised practice, incorporating elements of folklore, literature and long-standing oral traditions, beekeeping can historically be regarded as a form of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). However, now that short courses and beekeeping manuals are commonplace, there is a question as to what extent traditional elements remain. Is the modernisation of beekeeping resulting in the loss of traditionally held knowledge, understanding and practice? Our research considers this question and offers a bridge between different practices: working with beekeepers, writers, artists and designers, we will co-create new experimental forms of beekeeping knowledge (such as 3D printed artworks, creative writing and interactive films, to name just a few possibilities) by recodifying and repackaging beekeeping knowledge into ‘future folklore’.

Tay Landscape Partnership (TayLP), a public and third sector partnership in receipt of a £1.43 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, has a remit to work with communities in the Perth and Tayside to “reconnect residents and visitors with the natural, built and cultural heritage of the area”. This includes a bee colony regeneration project, with aims that include training 20 new beekeepers and producing 10 events in local schools between 2014-2018. ‘Telling the Bees’ will augment and expand these activities. After an initial review of documented beekeeping knowledge and practice, the project team will run a series of workshops with TayLP, schools and local community groups to collaboratively develop new creative research models (future folklore prototypes) to generate a shared understanding among beekeeping and non-beekeeping community members of the significance of beekeeping for local landscape management, cultural heritage, and environmental sustainability. The project will also play a key role at TayLP’s annual Heritage Festival in Carse of Gowrie, where it will showcase its research and gauge public reaction to the ‘future folklore’ prototypes.