Meet duo set to become Scotland’s youngest beekeepers

FOOTBALL, homework, computer games, Lego… oh, and check on the bees to make sure they haven’t upped sticks and swarmed off.

Ryan Wootton (left) and Dylan Mwakasekele think their new hobby is the bees knees. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Two primary school boys who have been combining every­day leisure pursuits with caring for beehives are set to become Scotland’s youngest Bee Masters.

Dylan Mwakasekele, 10, and Ryan Wootton, 12, have been learning how to capture a swarm of escaped bees, what a “waggle” dance signifies and how to maintain a hive until it is time to harvest the honey.

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In June they will sit an examination at Newbattle Abbey College in Dalkeith to gain the prestigious title of junior Bee Master. Both boys have been keeping a hive at the college’s apiary and have been mentored by beekeeping experts.

The Scottish Beekeepers’ Association (SBA), which supervises the Beekeeping for Beginners six-week course, wants to address the drastic shortage of young beekeepers and attract new pupils of all ages to the next intake of the course starting on 6 May.

The hobby is highly popular with children and teenagers in Europe where competition is fierce to be selected as delegates for annual beekeeping conventions.

Celebrity beekeepers include Hollywood A-lister Scarlett Johansson, Bez of Happy Mondays and even fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who retired to the Sussex Downs to take up beekeeping.

Dylan and Ryan were inspired to take up the course after their mothers qualified in beekeeping at the college. ­Dylan, a pupil at Sciennes primary school in Edinburgh, said: “I just decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps. It’s fun, like having pets. You have to look after them and make sure they are healthy. I do other things like baseball and swimming and I’ve got my Xbox but the bees are great.”

Ryan, who attends Lasswade primary school, said: “All of my friends, well the ones who love animals, are really interested in what I do looking after the bees and are always asking loads of questions. We have a hive in the back garden and I peep in every now and then to check that the queen bee is still there.

“I like watching them when they come flying home and like looking into the actual hive when they’re busy.”

Ryan’s mother Jenny said moving to a home with a large garden where she could plant lots of flowers and keep hives had been the motivating factor which got her, and then Ryan, involved in beekeeping.

“Ryan had been aware of me going out to classes at the college but when we actually got a hive he became absolutely enthralled and he would just sit there and watch them going in and out.”

Alan Riach, vice-president and education officer of the SBA, said: “We have an almighty task trying to get youngsters involved in beekeeping. So it’s great these two youngsters are on the course. It used to be a tradition which was handed down in a natural sort of way down the generations. Now it tends to attract two distinct groups – those typically in their 40s who are settled or retired or early retired people.

“One of my policies is to get teachers to join the course so they can pass their enthusiasm on to the kids. Some schools are taking an interest but the SBA just wouldn’t be able to support one-to-one teaching. That’s why I’m trying to raise awareness.”

• Beekeeping for Beginners, Newbattle Abbey College, 6 May-10 June, 7pm-9pm, £60, £10 reduction for over-60s.