The Shire Journal is pleased to welcome Stuart Stanley as a guest author. Stuart is a man of many talents. At various times he has been a stand-up comedian, events organiser, wedding planner, teacher and plumber. He has recently become a devoted apiarist.

'Type into a search engine Things to do in [your local area here] when you\'re bored and with ready access to the internet, and you\'re confronted with a bewildering list of pages. The nature of search engines mean most can be dismissed but among the commonplace stalwarts of swimming, cinemas, gyms etc you may just be lucky enough to find that unusual hobby. The kind of hobby you didn\'t even realise could be a hobby. For me that happened to be beekeeping.

Perched on the side of a What\'s On in Kent style website, nestling unobtrusively among the links to improve my credit status and renew my car insurance, was an ad to take up beekeeping. With some trepidation, I called the number expecting to be laughed at once I mentioned that I lived not on a farm or rural setting, but a first floor flat in an urban centre. No need for nerves. The voice at the other end was that of a passionate apiarist, who had been making a living from bees for the past twenty years and kept her hives on a nearby farm.

I was invited along for a one day taster day to see how I got on with the honey making ones. Even with the suit on and smoker in hand, approaching a bee hive for the first time will evoke a range of emotions. The increasing hum that accompanies each step tells you that they are expecting an arrival and says something about the highly intelligent and organised nature of the commune. Pheromones are released into the air when danger is sensed and this serves as just one way the honey bees can communicate along with body language and intricate dances.

“You\'ve got a natural affinity with them”, Jean said. But she probably says this to every new aspiring beekeeper. However, the bees here never showed any threat towards me. It was more like curiosity and they responded well to calm and deliberate actions. Peering into the hive from the top revealed a fascinating world with a highly organised society. Each bee had its predefined role and worked tirelessly for the greater cause. It was hard not to make comparisons with our own human society.

In the following months, I was welcomed into the somewhat ageing local association, who I think were delighted to see a young face entering their world. I was lavished with books to read and events to go to. They were all incredibly friendly and happy to share the wealth of experience they had. Beekeeping is undergoing one of its toughest times at the moment with the Veroa mite decimating hives worldwide. Environmentally, the decline of the honey bee could be catastrophic with smaller agricultural yields just one of the effects of reduced plant pollination. Why not take up a hobby that could save the world and doesn\'t involve you climbing into spandex super hero suit.'