A VALLEYS community is set to become the hub of a honey-making initiative to help save the local bee population and food crops.

The Sirhowy Valley Honeybee Company (SVHC), based in the village of Wyllie near Blackwood, has been awarded nearly £60,000 from the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme towards equipment and running costs.

The money will allow the social enterprise to supply bees to allotments to help pollinate vegetable plants and flowers, as well as offering tailored school workshops in the area.

SEWCED – which is funded through the Welsh Government and run by six local authorities including Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, and Torfaen – has invested more than £7 million in 100 social enterprises since 2010, helping create 90 jobs.

Lorne East, SVHC founder and experienced beekeeper, said: “Honeybees are in crisis worldwide. Disease and climate change are decimating the numbers and impacting on the health of bee colonies.

“The knock-on effect of this decline is that our plants - most especially food crops - are not being pollinated as well as we might like them to be, and there is a real threat to our capacity to produce food.”

In the UK alone, the value of the bee as a crops pollinator is around £430 million. If crops had to be pollinated by hand, it would cost around £1.8 billion per year.

“If you add to this the health and welfare benefits of consuming pure locally-produced ‘super food’ honey - as opposed to the blended varieties sold in large supermarkets – it’s easy to see why beekeeping and honey production has the capacity to significantly improve our local and national economy now and in the future,” Lorne added.

Mr East, from Wyllie, has been putting his bees on local gardeners’ allotments to help pollinate vegetable plants and flowers - as well as working with local primary schools to develop a curriculum-linked educational programme that can be rolled out to other primary schools across South East Wales. He said SVHC hopes to have 100 fully-productive honeybee colonies in the Sirhowy Valley within the next five years.