British Columbia

More than planes on the wing at southern B.C. airport — bees like it, too

Bees are buzzing around a small apiary next to the Kamloops Airport control tower in B.C.'s southern Interior. It's a perfect fit for a local beekeeper who's finding a food-production use for land that would otherwise stay empty.

Beekeeper says it makes sense to use empty commercial land for honey production

A small beekeeping operation on airport property is protected from intruders by a chain-link fence along Rivers Trail in Kamloops, B.C. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

If you listen closely on a riverside trail running past the airport in Kamloops, B.C., you can hear the sound of buzzing bees between the roar of the planes.

That's because beekeeper Rob Hunter and his wife Anne-Marie keep bees on what would otherwise be unused land near the airport's control tower. 

"People are very cooperative," Hunter said. "They let us come and be on their space and it's very workable [for agriculture]."

To get on to airport land the Hunters have special security clearance and must use a yellow flashing light as they drive onto the property. There, they keep a dozen colonies, each containing upwards of 30,000 bees. 

Rob and Anne-Marie Hunter run Hunter Honey which operates an apiary at the Kamloops Airport. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

Hunter got the idea six years ago after learning about airports in Ontario and Quebec that kept bees. In addition, he studied agriculture in university and was always interested in land use and beekeeping. 

When he approached Kamloops Airport managing director Ed Ratuski about the project, Ratuski immediately knew it was a good idea. 

"Rob was great," Ratuski said. "It just worked out really well."

Having the Hunters keeping bees on unused land has been so successful that the airport is looking at other ways they can make use of land including solar panels. 

"It makes a lot of sense to make use of those lands where it doesn't impact aviation, and it's good for the environment," Ratuski said. 

Because the hives are so visible from Rivers Trail, along the Thompson River, Hunter said people often come up to the fence to ask questions about bees and beekeeping. 

Being next to the trail also means the bees are close to wildlife, such as bears. That's why the Hunters installed an electric fence around the perimeter. 

"At times the bears have tested the chain-link and dug under and gone to the electric fence, but so far the bears haven't entered the bee yard or damaged any equipment," he said. "So we're happy with the location for the security part of it."

Hundreds of thousands of bees live next to the Kamloops Airport's control tower. (Courtney Dickson/CBC)

On average, Hunter said a colony of bees produces about 27 kilograms of honey each year. While that number can vary from year-to-year, production at the airport in 2018 took off, yielding twice the annual average. 

"They produced well last year," Hunter said. "I'm thinking of moving them this year because I don't see enough production. I'll have to decide that very soon."

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