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Bee-mad Mayor : 39 INTERVIEW WITH A Bee-mad Mayor Sally Ann Fellowes Linda Gillham M

eet Linda Gillham, Councillor,

environmentalist and bee enthusiast. She also happens to be the Mayor of Runnymede. I am fi nding out about her Plan Bee and how it’s been changing attitudes in schools across Surrey. I also wonder whether to confess my love of stroking bumblebees. I decide not to tell anyone.

My interview is Linda’s last function as Mayor; her 12 months have come to an end. I am excited to learn about her bee project and am wearing my best bee scarf in her honour.

Runnymede Plan Bee

Plan Bee for Runnymede is her initiative and its aim is to increase the bee population of the town and to heighten awareness of the bees’ plight through education.


She explains that fundraising is usually expected and comes with the territory. ‘I said right from the start that I wasn’t going to fundraise,’ she smiles. ‘I wanted something environmental.’

Linda sits on the Committee of the Regions; she tells me this is the local authority level in Brussels. One of her colleagues from Newcastle told her about a bee project that took place there

August 2013 Vol 95 No 8

fi ve years ago and the seed of Plan Bee was sown. ‘It’s taken off!’ She punctuates the sentence with laughter that is more about her own modesty. ‘I’m so lucky that nationally and internationally it [the plight of bees] has become an issue.’ Any monies raised from events such as the Mayor’s Ball will be given to local schools who are planting nectar-rich plants. I must admit I had assumed that the huge amount of rain we had last year contributed to the bees’ decline because it spoilt the nectar. ‘Partly,’ she tells me. ‘Bees hate rain!’ (That makes two of us). Added to the virus problems and the use of pesticides, this equals a big problem.

Runnymede in Bloom

She tells me that last year when she was Deputy Mayor, the Runnymede in Bloom competition contained a proviso that all displays must include something bee friendly. This has continued into this year. She takes me over to the back of the Mayor’s parlour and points to a supermarket trolley parked incongruously under numerous photographs of previous Mayors. The trolley is brimming with wooden trays.

Frame Decoration

‘Do you know what we did on Friday?’ Her enthusiasm is infectious. ‘Children from

nine primary schools came and they made these frames and decorated them.’ She explains, as I am a total novice, that they slot inside the beehives. The winning entry earned the pupil £30 for her school. I imagine bees coming in and out of their hives admiring the artwork which includes numerous butterfl ies and fl owers, in case they need reminding of their role.

School Donations

Linda says ‘Each school has been given £50 to spend on bee-friendly plants. They have also been given a box of wildfl ower seeds’. Proctor and Gamble has sponsored hives, sheds and a training classroom for St Jude’s Church of England Primary School and offered a generous sum to support local beekeepers.

One of her colleagues in the council, a beekeeper, is going to help install everything and act as teacher and mentor.


Linda shows me a child’s beesuit; it looks like a baby ‘Ghostbuster’ kit and has the word ‘Sherriff’ written on it. This she tells me is a very good make. Who knew?

She shows me a ‘smoker’ and points out the section to set a fi re and a bellows that is squeezed to make the smoke.

I learn that bees’ biggest fear in the wild is forest fi re. When they smell the smoke they dive into the cells and gorge themselves [on honey] ready to fl y off so they’ve got energy on board. This calms the bees so the beekeeper can go into the hive more easily and check the queen is all right.

Beekeepers mark the queen with a little blob of paint so they can see her more easily. The one thing they must check on each week is the health of the queen.

Also, if the bees are allowing

more queens to develop it could mean they’re preparing to swarm.

Reigate Beekeepers

Last Wednesday Linda went to the Reigate Beekeepers’ Association.

‘They’ve just bought a plot of land and put in 12 colonies. They are using it as a training centre. I managed to get stung!’ (We laugh.) ‘We were all kitted up looking at the hives. We checked one another over to make sure we didn’t have any bees on us. Still you can’t do this without being stung!’ (She laughs again.)

Future Plans

Linda hopes to continue with Plan Bee for Runnymede after stepping down as Mayor. I know the bees will be very happy about this. ¤

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