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    'Bees need us for their survival'

    20 May 2022 | 10:00

    Things are not going well for the honeybee in the Netherlands, but not for the bees of Athora Netherlands. Thanks to the good care our colleague and in-house beekeeper Sokol Nuri, the bee colonies living around our headquarters in Amstelveen are in perfect health, although the ongoing drought is a challenge at the moment.

    Sokol in imkerpak.jpg

    Sokol is an actuary and also looks after the three hives at Athora Netherlands headquarters.

    The Amstelveen Athora bees do not normally attract much attention. They are hidden away next to the office building and buzzing about in the garden, looking for pollen and nectar for their queens. But it is quite special that we, as a financial institution, have our own bee colonies and thus make a small contribution to the preservation of biodiversity. Hives that, moreover, are cared for by our own colleague. That is why we would like to put Sokol and his bees in the spotlight.

    How many bee colleagues do we have these days?

    "We now have three bee colonies with a total of about 160,000 bees. Two of them are very strong and one colony is smaller, but growing. I was also creating a fourth colony, but that queen turned out not to be strong enough to run the new colony. Therefore, I had to temporarily merge that fourth people back with the mother population. Now that it is spring, I will soon try again with a new queen to split off a fourth population."

    You hear only doom and gloom when you read about bees and other insects in the media. Is that your observation too?

    "Sure, in a general sense the honey bee in the Netherlands is not doing well, we all know those stories. In bad winters, sometimes as many as 40 percent of the bees are lost. Climate change is a major cause and poses major challenges to both the bees and us beekeepers. Harsh winters used to be the biggest problem, but today early spring and extremely dry summers are the reality, and that means that as a beekeeper you have to adjust your schedule accordingly. Even as an experienced beekeeper, you may face unpleasant surprises. Because in addition to climate change, there are plenty of other threats to the honey bee. You have to deal with varroa mites (a parasite that reproduces on the brood of honey bees), viruses, pesticide use and electromagnetic radiation from mobile networks. All in all, not a pleasant situation for the bee."

    Are our bees doing well?

    "Yes, despite all the challenges, our bees are doing fine. Also because I introduced new, purebred queens to the hives last year. I also invested a lot of time last year to build up the new hives and also in good material for our new hives. The hives are now generally very healthy, stable and balanced. Although the drought is a threat. As a result, there are fewer blooming flowers and the bees can find less nectar and therefore not enough food."

    Keeping bees takes patience and dedication

    How can you help hungry bees?

    "The bees had made quite a bit of honey last fall and I considered harvesting it at the time so that we would have a few jars of Athora honey for the first time. But in retrospect, it was a good decision not to. Thanks to last year's honey reserves, the bees are now able - despite the ongoing drought that has lasted for 9 weeks - to adequately feed the brood in the hives and form new honeycombs. As a supplement, I also give them extra feed in the form of sugar water. So on Athora honey we can only hope for now; the bees themselves need their honey far too much to survive."

    How do beekeepers help in the survival of bees? Can't they do it themselves?

    "Unfortunately, under current conditions, it is almost impossible for bees to survive on their own. In no 20 years have we heard anything more about bee colonies occurring in the wild, such as in the forest or under a bridge. Sadly, it is a situation we as humans have created ourselves. Because we have always looked for bees that produce as much honey as possible and are easy to handle, we have thereby sidelined the more natural selection criteria. And that has not been to the benefit of the bees and their ability to survive We as humans have thus been very busy over the last 100 years trying to use bees for our own gain, but with the result that they can hardly survive without our help. They need the beekeeper to make a hive for them and for treatment against disease."

    How did you become Athora's house beekeeper?

    "I have been working here in the Actuarial Department (Liabilities Modelling & Change) since 2008. I am also a member of a beekeeping association in Amstelveen in my spare time. Athora's bees were first taken care of by a professional firm, and when the contract with that ended, colleagues from Facilities Management contacted our association asking if we could help take care of the bees. Not knowing that I am a colleague. So that was a convenient stroke of luck.

    Is it difficult to keep bees?

    "That just depends on whether it's your hobby, or whether you're a professional beekeeper. As a hobby, it's wonderful and fun, although it's really not easy. To keep bees, you have to take theoretical and practical courses. But most of all it requires patience and dedication. Then anyone can learn."

    What can other people do to help the bees?

    "Make sure you have enough greenery in your garden and especially flowers. That way you help the bees find food more easily. You are lucky if there is a beekeeper active near your garden, because it is badly needed to pollinate the plants in your garden. In addition, it is a great help to buy honey and other products from local beekeepers."

    In spring 2024, our bees were successfully moved to their new home next to our new office at Edge Amsterdam West.