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Flynn's Bee Farm conservationist, Sudi Austin, tells of dire winter for county’s bees

By Lewis Dyson

As environmentalists and conservationists discuss ways of protecting Kent’s bee population, a Sheppey honey seller has spoken of a “dreadful” winter for her insects.

Sudi Austin and her husband Chris lost 15 of their 25 hives at their business Flynn’s Bee Farm in Elmley Road, Brambledown, owing to high winds blowing them over.

This equates to a loss of approximately 300,000 bees, many of which drowned in heavy rains.

Bee keeper Sudi Austin is warning more needs to be done to save Kent's bee population

The couple were also unable to save several other colonies they look after at allotments in Sheerness.

Mrs Austin said: “We lost an awful lot of bees in the winter so we have had to start again. But we have to look on the positive side because the bees that we are left with are very strong indeed.

“As we are a conservation site for bee improvement, you could say nature has weeded out the weak for us.

“We are starting to get lots of calls now from people seeing swarms, which means they are doing well and propagating well.”

She added that she and her husband had to give the insects extra feed over the winter as the honey they ate was running low, and at one stage she was out in downpours wearing her pyjamas and a waterproof coat trying to turn the hives the right way up.

Kent County Council recently organised a summit at Oakwood House in Maidstone to find ways of protecting bees and their habitats along roads, rivers, railways and footpaths.

A massive part of the county’s £400 million rural economy depends on insect pollination, and the National Audit Office estimates that the retail value of plants that bees pollinate is £1 billion, and that each hive is worth £400 to the economy.

KCC Deputy cabinet member for economic development Sean Holden, said: “We need to mobilise the people of Kent to create better habitats and more forage for bees in whatever ways they can.

“The government has just produced a national pollinator strategy to look at how we engage our communities, and this will not only help protect bees but also improve our environment.”

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