Focus on the Wellbeing of Bees: Research Project on Barriers

Bee colony on the barrier
Photo: H. Rappel

Barriers between the brood box and honey super in the hive are used in order to separate the two areas and prevent the queen bee from laying her eggs outside the combs intended for brooding. While with their large abdomens like the drones they are unable to fit through the narrow slits of the barrier, the more petite worker bees are able to slip into the honey super and do their job there. However, such barriers restrict the queen’s natural brood box, which would otherwise extend over the entire hive – which is why they have only been provided in exceptional cases hitherto in accordance with the guidelines for ecological Demeter beekeeping. Nonetheless, this regulation has been the subject of controversy for several years. Many, especially younger and commercial beekeepers have argued in favour of the barriers. In their experience, they enable them to manage the beehives in such a way that ultimately benefits the bees as well.

In order to tackle this debate objectively, a team led by Forschungsring e.V. in Darmstadt investigated the effects of the barrier on honey quality, life processes in the beehive and issues related to the efficient use of resources. “The project consistently pursued a participatory approach that focused on practice from planning the investigations to obtaining the results”, emphasises SAGST project manager Christian Wüst. Christopher Brock coordinated the project at Forschungsring and worked together with eight Demeter beekeepers and other professionals and scientists.

The project took several years, has now been completed and has provided a surprisingly complex picture: whether the barrier is used or not, does not have to mean either negative or positive implications – not on animal welfare or on the workload of the beekeepers. “Altogether, the investigations that were carried out with great commitment and effort showed that there may be a slight benefit for honey quality from hive management without barriers, whereas the effects otherwise depend on the context”, is how Brock explains the results. As he summarises, “Even with barriers, bee-friendly production of high-quality honey is feasible if the overall operating method is properly structured and consistent.” This finding is now also reflected in the Demeter guidelines: at the delegates’ meeting in April 2023, it was decided to allow the barriers to be used in Germany from now on.