Bees settle in atop the Tobacco Factory

July 27 2018
Bees settle in atop the Tobacco Factory

Voice nature writer Alex Morss ventures to the roof of the Tobacco Factory to find out what all the buzzing's about


Tim Myers and George Ferguson on the Tobacco Factory roof with their beehives

Pictured: Tobacco Factory buildings manager Tim Myers with George Ferguson amid the beehives     PHOTO: Alex Morss

Good news for bee geeks, literary bears and other honey lovers: South Bristol now has a bee factory. For many years, the Tobacco Factory on North Street has been a hive of industry and a social hub, and now the ultimate urban social insects have buzzed in on the act.

Southville Honey is raising the roof, with about 100,000 honeybees busy at work, up top. It’s the ultimate penthouse sweet spot, with panoramic views over the gardens and parks where the bees forage for pollen and nectar.

Tobacco Factory buildings manager Tim Myers is also a beekeeper, and he serves on Bristol’s “swarm watch” – on standby to capture and rehome honeybees that occasionally swarm in the city. This happens when the old queen bee leaves to form a new colony. “Yes, people can call the Tobacco Factory if they have a swarm,” said Tim, swathed in his beekeeping suit. We inspected three hives on the roof, teeming with honeybees. “Each one probably has 30,000 or more bees in at the minute, but there can be more,” Tim enthused, whilst puffing a cloud of calming smoke over a colony so he could check the combs.

The roof is crammed with solar panels too. As we wriggled past to reach the hives, along with former Bristol mayor George Ferguson, who owns the building, the pair revealed they have set up even more hives and a market garden just outside Bristol, growing food to serve in city venues. The honey will be sold in the Tobacco Factory too.

“If I’d had more time as mayor I would have liked to have spent more time looking at how local farms supply Bristol’s food,” said George – although he is now doing that anyway, and also hosts a Sunday market at the Factory selling local, eco-friendly produce. We also pondered whether the roof could squeeze in some other wildlife habitat ideas.

There is barely any space left, but a few possibilities are being considered. While I was taking in the impressive rooftop views across Bristol, what struck me was the panoramic desert of grey that makes up our city’s upper veneer. The street tops looked like a huge lost opportunity, a dirty barren crust of slate, tile and concrete. How valuable many of these roofs could become if they offered something for the environment, such as nesting spaces for bees, bat roosts, bird boxes and feeders, nectar hotspots, caterpillar food plants, rain butts, solar panels and modest green roof planting.

Honey champion Winnie the Pooh famously once said: “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” I left wondering if Bristol’s half a million hearts could each make room for one small wild thing on their little grey space …