Behind the scenes at Oakdale Bees in Windsor
PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 April 2020
Bees are vital to our survival; they’re the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. Sarah Rodi speaks to Elisabeth Barton at Oakdale Bees in Windsor, who has fulfilled a lifelong passion to care for these marvellous creatures
At this time in the year, we start to hear bees humming about in our gardens, darting from flower to flower, poking their heads into petals to find nectar and pollen. Spring is a very busy time for these incredible insects. They help the flowers by spreading their pollen and this is vital for both the bee and the flower to reproduce. And we also benefit, as one-third of the food we eat depends on these pollinators.
Have you ever seen the Bee Movie with Jerry Seinfeld? In the film, the bees discover the humans are stealing their honey so they sue them and all their honey is returned to them, meaning the bees no longer have to work. The bees then stop pollinating flowers, so all plant life dies. This has always stuck with me as a reminder of how incredibly important these creatures are. And someone who knows this better than most is Elisabeth Barton, founder of Oakdale Bees in Windsor. Set in four acres of wild meadow fields, the apiary was founded by Elisabeth in 2015. She has always had a passion for bees and wanted to do her bit to abate the alarming decline in the species and the environmental eco system they support. We caught up with her to hear about the amazing work they do.
Where are you based?
Whilst I hail from North Yorkshire, Windsor has been home for over 30 years and I love it. We’re based at Oakley Green bordering Windsor Forest. With my husband, Mark, Bertie the Great Dane, Twiglet the wire-haired dachshund, Blue the cat, Indian runner ducks, doves, a wild parrot called Petunia and about one million bees, we are 10 years into a 20-year project to create a haven for wildlife.
What do you love about Berkshire?
I think you only truly appreciate what is on our doorstep when visitors come to stay and you proudly escort them to castles, deer parks, top racing events, iconic boat races and a bewildering choice of award- winning restaurants and gourmet pubs.
Tell us about your career…
Graduating from Leeds University with a degree in Hotel Management, I luckily advanced in a career in the hotel sector before establishing my own company three days before my 30th birthday. We now own the Tarbay Kennels and Cattery in Windsor and an event management company called Key Locations. It was only since my 50th Birthday – there is clearly a birthday crisis pattern forming – that I started beekeeping and Oakdale Bees.
What is Oakdale Bees all about?
At Oakdale Bees we aim to educate, inspire and engage as many people as we possibly can on the subject of bees and the magical things they do.
We care for our own bees in our apiary of 15 hives and we also try to create products that empower others to be more bee friendly.
Our girls are British Buckfast bees and they are very well behaved, polite and prolific.
Working with nature we find creative solutions to some of the problems our planet and humanity faces. From things like creating beeswax food wraps to replace single use plastic cling film, to giving people hands-on experience with beekeeping; which not only helps the bees but also evokes mindfulness for those who practise it.
Our experience days are one of the things we enjoy the most as each attendee has a genuine interest in the bees and for us that is truly inspiring to see, it’s always great to meet like-minded people and be able to share what we know with them, as well as a glass of wine and some yummy food.
What has been the public response to what you offer?
The demand for our plastic replacement products is growing dramatically since so many people are making lifestyle changes to become more sustainable. Not only that but the huge push to save the bees has meant that more and more people are wanting to know about beekeeping and bee-related products like candles and beauty products.
We get really fantastic feedback about our products and what a difference they make to people’s lives, after all doing something good for the planet feels twice as nice as buying something plastic. Proud to say we are in over 100 shops and growing.
If each of us make small changes it will make a difference.
In 2020 our experience days have been so booked up that we have already had to add more dates to this year’s schedule and we have even started looking at what other experiences we can offer.
Tell us about your products and new gifts
We offer a range of packs in Beeswax wraps and we also produce other hive-related products such as candles, honey and make-your-own Beeswax Wrap Kits.
In early summer at the NEC Farm Shop and Deli show we will be launching a range of new eco-friendly gifts including ‘Be a friend to the Bees’ pack, a children’s ‘Beetective’ kit, which encourages everyone to build a haven for our much-needed pollinators. We’re also launching Seed Bomb kits to encourage us all to create a mini wild meadow.
“Bees are outstanding in what they give back”
In addition, we offer natural Beeswax wood polish and even Doggie Paw and Nose Balm to soothe our pampered pooches. Bees are outstanding in what they give back.
What are your goals?
To encourage and enable small lifestyle changes that cumulatively have a greater impact on our truly beautiful and yet very fragile planet. I am also keen to run an event for vegans to give an independent beekeeper’s view on how we manage the hives, look after the bees and why they are a valuable asset that we need to nurture.