EDUCATING youngsters about the importance of bees has never been so imperative.

With the honey bee population dwindling due to natural factors such as the unseasonal wet summers we have suffered in recent years, and the threat of the varroa mite which has wiped out 47 per cent of colonies in Yorkshire over the past five years, the need for education is now.

Conscious of raising awareness of the importance of bees to the next generation, Bradford Beekeepers Association is currently developing its schools project.

A £9,713 grant from The Gannett Foundation, run by the parent company of the Telegraph & Argus, has helped the association produce a schools pack containing two DVDs, including a data disc with around 74 individual classroom or outdoor activities for various age groups relating to bees and pollinators.

Cake making as a tool to highlight the importance pollinators play in producing the ingredients within our food chain along with science and maths-based activities are also included in the pack.

For example, one third of the food we eat would not be available if it wasn't for bees. They bring medicinal benefits too, and their harvest is used in medicinal applications, craft and manufacturing.

According to the British Beekeepers Association, 70 crops in the UK are dependent on, or benefit from, visits from bees. Bees pollinate flowers of many plants which become part of the feed of farm animals.

They have an economic value too, generating approximately £200m per year as pollinators of commercially-grown insect pollinated crops in the UK.

Bill Cadmore, training officer for Bradford Beekeepers Association and chairman of Yorkshire Beekeepers Association, says children are often 'disconnected from their food' and don't realise the part bees and other pollinators play in its production.

"The whole thing is encouraging an understanding of bio-diversity, keeping as many plants and animals around as we can," says Bill.

He says while school packs have been produced in the past and are available on the internet, he understands it is possibly the first time that an apiary visit has been included which Bradford Beekeepers Association are offering through their pack.

As well as the school pack, which is expected to be distributed free to 500 schools in the city in October, the children will also be invited to the Knowles Park Apiary where the association has transformed a former bowling pavilion into a specialist training facility.

Bill explains the youngsters will be able to don a bee-keeping suit and actually look in the hives to see the bees in action. This will form part of a second DVD the Association is in the throes of compiling.

"It used to be bee-keepers with their bees getting a bit of honey and really that was what it was about," says Bill, referring to the surge in popularity in bee-keeping both as a pastime and also as a way of preserving habitats.

"Now it is becoming almost like crusading for the environment, for maintaining a habitat, and education is a vital part of that," says Bill.

As well as educating the next generation about bees, Bradford is also becoming renowned as one of the cities at the forefront of urban beekeeping in Britain.

The University of Bradford has already set up and established its own hives run by Bradford Beekeepers Association. Companies have since followed suit with the Yorkshire Building Society introducing bees into its rural surroundings in Rooley Lane along with Marks & Spencer which introduced hives at its Bradford distribution centre.

According to Bill, the development of urban bee-keeping is essential as the countryside often has little fodder for bees with land utilised for grazing horses or growing wheat. There are also fewer hedgerows and woodland.

"Out in the countryside in farmland there is a huge decline in bees and all the pollinators and the city suburbs are now a reservoir to those so city bee-keeping is really important," explains Bill.

He hopes this summer's warmer weather will help to turn around the struggles bees have faced during the wetter summers in recent years. "This year the good summer has turned it around a bit and it has been particularly good for those who have just started," says Bill.

"The bees are doing what they are supposed to do which is getting out and making honey."

For more information, visit bfdbka. org. uk; e-mail: training, or