Dundee’s First School Beekeeping Association by Fred Mollison.

Fred Mollison.

Fred is one of those highly motivated people who focusses on the solution rather than the problem. When his local beekeeping association committee voted against getting involved with school beekeeping, Fred and colleagues set up a new beekeeping association within the school forging a firm link between beekeeping and education. Fred is someone you want on your team; lucky Baldragon Academy!

Thank you, Fred, for taking the time to share this story with us. Let’s move on now to Fred’s introduction, and his account of setting up both beekeeping facilities and a beekeeping Association (affiliated to the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association) in a Dundee school.

Fred Mollison.

I will first tell you something about myself and how I became a beekeeper.  I served in the British army from leaving school at sixteen in 1977. During my career I became an instructor in a number of different subjects, due to the fact that I had attended many courses on coaching and mentoring.  I have been an instructor since 1985 until the present, both in the regular army and the reserve army.  This has given me the ability to study a subject and then to help others to understand what is expected of them and how they can get the most enjoyment out of learning new things.    

Becoming a Beekeeper.

As for becoming a beekeeper, I started like many, with a single hive, which soon became 2 hives then 4 and so on.  I now have 20 (I only wanted to have two, this will sound familiar to a few readers, I’m sure.)  This led me to completing all the Healthy BEE courses which were run by Tony Harris (NDB and Scottish Expert Beemaster) and Ann Chilcott (Scottish Expert Beemaster). Alongside this, I have been studying and have sat modules (mod) 1,2,3,5,6 which has only left me with mod 7 and 8 to complete.   I was often encouraged by Ann to get into training others.  So, when an opportunity came up to volunteer to deliver instruction at a local high school, I jumped at the chance.

Beekeeping in Schools.

Taking the education of beekeeping into the schools has always been a goal of mine, so when Sandy Scott proposed this at a committee meeting, I was immediately on board with the idea. At this time, Sandy Scott took the lead. He first attended a meeting with teachers at East Bush Campus, Roslyn, Edinburgh University in early 2018.  This was attended by Lorraine Johnston, Ray Baxter, Ann Chilcott and twenty other interested individuals.  The purpose was to have a discussion on the way forward for the implementing of this into the schools and was to set the standard to Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework level 5 as set out in the Scottish system of education standards. This led on to other meetings (lots of meetings).  The next being a meeting with the director of education for the local authority of Angus Council in the summer of 2019.  As a result of this meeting, head teachers were approached, and two schools showed an interest.  They were Monifieth High School and Brechin High School.  Sandy, along with Mary Bruce, then met with them and discussed the plan forward with regards to where to site the apiary, and the training of teachers in apiculture and all things bees.

Scottish Qualifications Authority.

By now you kind of get the drift that at this stage a lot of meetings were held. So, moving on, there was a meeting with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in Glasgow in late 2019 to discuss the procedures and syllabus that would be covered in teaching beekeeping to the students and what kind of qualification would be awarded. Input was also given from the General Secretary of the Scottish Beekeepers Association (SBA), Helen Nelson and Alan Riach, the now Education officer of the SBA.

Mr Hugh McAninch, the headteacher of Baldragon Academy, Dundee, requested a meeting with a view to setting up a community hub, using the school as the focal point. Attending this meeting was a contingent from East of Scotland Beekeepers Association (ESBA) and members of the school. This meeting went well in the main, with only a few concerns raised. The headteacher asked the ESBA to go into partnership with the school as this would provide avenues to more funding and a wider catchment area.  This proposal was taken back to the trustees of the ESBA, but unfortunately the trustees voted against this. 

Baldgragon Academy.

However, not wanting to miss this opportunity, Sandy and I decided to form our own association. As Baldragon Academy was to be the location of the apiary and the driving force, it was agreed to call it Baldragon Beekeepers’ Association, BBA for short. We have recruited 8 members into the association to date. We also had three teachers who had committed to teaching the bee course at the school, however for unforeseen circumstances two of them have had to drop out, which has left us with Miss Gill Ferris. Retaining teachers will always be a problem in that, with good intentions and a willingness to help the students, the teachers can become over stretched or move on to other positions, something we all should remember when trying to set up such a project. Hence the drive for the school to work in partnership.

Hugh has been a great driving force, along with his team, in getting this project of the ground and has secured funding from Scottish climate challenge fund, School food matters (London), Woodland trust and the Tree council. These funds have allowed us to have a hard standing laid for the bee house to be situated on. Also, perimeter fence has been erected to secure the area and a large number of trees and shrubs, all chosen for being bee friendly, have been purchased. A bee shed to house the hives and allow the students to work with bees in all weathers, bee suits, tools, frames, and foundation have also been bought.

And First, The Shed!

Supporting Teaching Staff.

Putting hives together.

Our new association will be assisting the teaching staff with their training, and we plan to run a beginner’s course for adults, to enable them to take on the role of mentors to the school students.  These adults will come from school staff, Rural studies Dundee and Angus College, Monifieth High School, Brechin High School, Strathmartine community partnership and parents.  This course is our first and will cover the basics of apiculture. The association will be their first point of contact if they have any question or need any assistance with their respective projects. Our association and partnership with the school means we have the ethos of being inclusive and active in delivering a professional learning experience to the students and local community.  

Of course, it has not all been plain sailing.  We have encountered a few obstacles along the way.  The pandemic being the main one, with social distancing, students changing within the bee group, loss of adult mentors, and the list goes on. However, it would not be beekeeping if we didn’t have a few challenges to contend with.  

It is planned in the future to tap into our beekeeping circles (so now you have been warned), and we will be inviting others to assist our project.  These will include Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), the Scottish Bee inspector, Dundee and Angus Rural department, and my good friend and mentor, Ann Chilcott, who, by the way, inspired me to work with Sandy on this endeavour. I have become involved to the point that I decided to retire from my civil service post after 21 years and become a pupil support assistant at Baldragon Academy in Dundee.

Student Support.

Candle making.

This job entails supporting students while in a learning environment, and on occasions helping them on a one-to-one basis, due to their specific learning or emotional needs. For my part, I am of course taking them and some of the teaching staff through the basics of beekeeping.  I will also use beekeeping to introduce other subjects such as numeracy, marketing and advertising, horticulture, biology, art, and design, as they are to make up their own advertising posters and logos

Furthermore, I have been asked to attend a dry-stone walling course, to enable me to teach the students about this as well, which I am eager to undertake.  

Building the apiary.

The apiary stands in the grounds of the school and is surrounded with an 8-foot wire mesh fence.  The forage in the area is oil seed rape, gorse, sycamore, lime trees and wildflowers. It is also situated in an urban area, with many gardens full of flowers and fauna.  And we are further developing the landscape by rewilding school grounds.

Further to this article I will update the readers of our progress.  I would like to take the opportunity to thank Ann Chilcott for asking me to do this piece for her, and to Mrs Elaine Montgomery for being my sub editor. Elaine is also a good friend and my bee buddy. It’s much easier in beekeeping when you have someone to share lifting and management challenges with.

To be continued.

8 thoughts on “Dundee’s First School Beekeeping Association by Fred Mollison.”

  1. Few have your commitment and perseverence, Fred. I admire your continuing ‘maintenace of objective’. Best wished for the future progress of what you have undertaken.

  2. Thank you, Fred, for sharing the story, so far, of your beekeeping and teaching at Baldragon Academy. You are offering the students a marvelous opportunity to connect with a beautiful part of nature…honey bees. Just wish I could take your course in building dry stane dykes.

    1. Thank you Tom. It would be great to have you attend dry stand diking, if you are ever in this part of the world, you would be most welcome to visit us.

  3. Brilliant stuff Fred. I wish that opportunities like this had been available when I was at school all those years ago! Power to you.

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