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Belarus - Bringing Back the Bears and Bees

Log Hive Platform Belarus

A 10 metre high platform with 3 log hives, home to Belarusian Black Bees

Trustee Jonathan Powell recounts his visit to the Naliboki Forest in Belarus. He is currently writing a new book on Forest Bees which follows on from the ebook "The Tree Beekeeping Field Guide". As part of the research he travelled to the 240,000 hectare forest of Naliboki in Belarus. Here in this half swamp, half forest the traditional Belarus method of log hives in tree platforms and a basic forest living are being revived by Ivan Mulin and the tree beekeeping brotherhood of Fratrum Mellicidarum.

Returning a restored log hive to the forest, and four sore shoulders.

Belarus used to be one of the major centres of keeping bees in trees. Even today in Belarus there are approximately 200 tree hives or Bort (human-made cavities inside trees ) that have been recently recorded but they are disappearing fast. Only a mere quarter of them have bees! There are still 14,000 log hives (Koloda) located in trees, but many have been abandoned in the last ten to twenty years: Approximately 1,500 -2,000 are settled by bees. There are about 300 traditional beekeepers left. The decimation of villages in World War II, the modernisation of previously isolated villages now accessible by roads built over the last 40 years, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to the south and intensive commercial forest economy since World War II have eroded the once strong traditional tree beekeeper (Bortnik) culture.

Old log hives, some over 150 years old, being restored for bees and trees again.

Abandoned forest home and hive. The horse's cart collar sits adjacent to

window, decoratively carved to ward off evil forest spirits

The forest holds a tragic past. During WWII whole villages in the forest were destroyed, the people massacred or deported to forced labour camps. Children returned from milking cows in the fields to find nothing on their return. Deeper into the swampy forest, thousands of partisans and people escaping from the terror of war found protection.

Today only 20 of the 400 isolated simple wooden forest homes remain from the post war era , and of those only 5 have residents. There is a poignant yet simple charm entering these home.

Peeling papered memories, old locks, once familiar,

... now disappearing as the roofs give way to nature.

Jonathan's new treebeekeeper friend Ivan is restoring two of these homes deep in the forest for people to experience tree beekeeping courses and visit one of Europe's last remaining large primeval forests, home to wild boar, beaver, elks, bison, grouse.

Ivan's new neighbor caught on night cam. (Photo Ivan Mulin)

In the last five years eight bears have returned to the forest, so there are real signs of hope. And similarly Ivan is gradually returning the bees to the trees of Naliboki.

Another hive in the bees' favourite location.

More hives on the way. The fallen shingled barns behind.

This is truly a labour of love. Love of the forest, love of the bees and love of the wild. Ivan with just the help of a few friends has poured his heart and soul into restoring the settlement. There is a daunting list of work still to do, The Trust applauds Ivan Mulin’s efforts to support bees in trees, their natural home. This was a unique experience of warm hospitality, traditional wooden homes, bees, climbing, forest life and wonderfully delicious, simple Belarusian forest food. The next log hive training course will be run by Bartrnictwo in October 2019.

Source of Belarus log hive data: Ivan Osipau (Barefooted tree-beekeepers Brotherhood), XII 2016)

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