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Protecting Bees at Dunollie

This April for National Earth Day, we wanted to talk about something that we know has been part of life at Dunollie for hundreds of years, which was also included in the many interests of Miss Hope MacDougall, and in fact which should interest every one of us today more than ever – bees!

The important work that bees do for our Earth remains as critical today as it has been for millions of years. The most well-known perk to keeping bees is the production of delicious honey, which has long been renowned for its medicinal properties as well as its taste. However, bees are also incredible pollinators which aid in the pollination of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Bees also pollinate trees and flowers which provide habitats for other forms of wildlife, making them an essential part of many ecosystems.

The MacDougall’s have historically been interested in keeping bees here at Dunollie. In our archive, we have invoices which show bee-related purchases at Dunollie from 1737, including an invoice from 1843 for “4 beehives and 3 empty beeskeps” which helps us imagine how many bees were here. Further, Miss Hope MacDougall has in her expansive social history collection a ‘super’ from a beehive which she took from the family home when she left in 1966, so we can gather that there were still bees being kept at Dunollie at this time.

A ‘super’ is a square frame which is placed in the top of a beehive which contains shelves for collecting honey – with the name coming from the word ‘superstructure’, which means a structure built on top of something else.

Also in Hope’s collection is a jar containing honeycomb which would have been built directly into the jar whilst it was inside a hive.

A bee smoker given to Miss MacDougall in 1983 is described in her full inventory as “a nice old one” which really helps us get a feel for how excited Hope was to add interesting bits to her collection!

Though we know that bees have been a vital part of keeping not only Dunollie but our whole planet beautiful, and our fruits, vegetables and flowers plentiful for countless years now, they are unfortunately more in danger than ever before. Habitat loss and climate change is threatening bees across the world, with 13 species of bees in the UK being lost since 1900. There are a few ways in which we can all help the bees:

· Growing bee friendly flowers such as foxglove, lavender, bluebells or rhododendrons – which you can see plenty of here in Dunollie’s grounds – will provide nectar for bees all year round.

· If you see a bee looking unwell it is probably exhausted – mixing two tablespoons of white sugar with one tablespoon of water and leaving it near the bee can provide an essential pick me up.

· Provide shelter for bees – perhaps create a bee hotel! Dunollie’s bug hotel is a great example of how to use natural materials to create a shelter for tiny creatures!

Continuing from a long history of bees being kept here at Dunollie, there are still some bees being kept on site today! Stuart Sunderland of Argyll Honey has hives in Dunollie’s private walled garden, who produce the honey for our Drapers Shop. Pick some up next time you are visiting!


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