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Welsh honey producers take next generation of bee farmers under their wings

Alex and Ros Ellis of Border Honey.

As World Bee Day has just passed (May 20th) the next generation of apicultural talent is being nurtured by bee farmers in Wales through the offering of apprenticeships.

Designated by the United Nations, World Bee Day acknowledges the role of bees and other pollinators in sustainable development, food security, and biodiversity.

The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Anton Janša, an 18th-century Slovenian apiarist who is acknowledged as the pioneer of beekeeping.

Welsh honey is in demand, and according to the National Bee Unit’s BeeBase there were almost 4,000 beekeeper registrations from Wales in 2022. Also, last year (2023) the Bee Farmers’ Association recorded some 51 registrations from Wales.

Two Welsh honey businesses – Gwenyn Gruffydd Ltd and Border Honey – are currently training apprentices, who will then take up full-time posts.

Both businesses are members of the Food & Drink Wales Honey Cluster, part of the Welsh Government’s Clustering initiative which fosters connections between businesses in the sector.

Gwenyn Gruffydd Honey

Honey Cluster Lead Haf Wyn Hughes said, “The Honey Cluster is dedicated to raising the profile and production of Welsh honey and bringing together bee farmers with a business vision and an ambition to grow.

“This is precisely what Border Honey and Gwenyn Gruffydd Ltd are doing in Wales by their forward-looking and ambitious approach. By offering apprenticeships, they are nurturing the next generation of bee farmers – vital to the Welsh honey sector and protecting the honeybee environment.

“I have worked alongside both companies over the years through the Honey Cluster, and it is wonderful to see them grow their enterprises and become employers. They work incredibly hard and are determined to drive the Welsh honey sector forward. Their work in the beekeeping and honey sector is inspiring, and the Honey Cluster is there to provide support, where possible, for them and all our members.”

The Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Huw Irranca Davies, said, “Bees are crucial to maintaining the environmental sustainability of our planet, and it is fitting that as World Bee Day approaches, we celebrate the work and achievements of the Welsh honey sector. Providing work and training opportunities, such as apprenticeships, for the next generation of beekeepers is vital in helping the sector meet the growing demand for Welsh honey.”


Gwenyn Gruffydd Ltd apprentice Andy Stead had his first taste of honey production as a newly graduated Aberystwyth University student when he spent time working at Wainwright’s Bee Farm.

Originally from London, Andy moved back to England to pursue a career in sales, but he hankered after working with bees – and decided to come back to Wales and pursue a career in bee farming.

“I gained some experience in honey processing when working at Wainwrights, but I hadn’t worked with bees. I did a training day at Gwenyn Gruffydd, and when I heard about the apprenticeship, I thought it’s now or never,” says Andy (34), who now lives with his family in Pembrokeshire.

“I’m in the second month of my three-year apprenticeship, and it is going really well. It is good to see the scale of things and how different bee farming is from hobbyist, and Gruff and Angharad are so passionate about producing high-quality honey and quality bees.”

Gruff and Angharad Rees started their business in 2010 as complete novices with two hives. They now have 400 located around Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, which contain two types of bees – the native Welsh Black and Buckfast.

“Membership of the Honey Cluster has helped our business grow massively to become a full-time business”, Gruff says.

The business’s growth has stimulated the need for extra help, and with Andy, the enterprise supports four full-time staff.

Says Gruff, “We are rare in having staff, and it is super rare to have an apprentice as most bee farms are a one-person band and too small to employ people. We knew we needed someone and got in touch with the Bee Farmers Association, which runs an apprenticeship scheme. We advertised through our social media, and received around seven applications.

“As a business operating within the ARFOR* area, we’ve been fortunate to get support through the Llwyddo’n Lleol 2050 Gyrfaol Initiative to help fund Andy’s role for the first 12 months, and we’re fortunate for the Honey Cluster’s guidance to build the business further.

“There is a huge demand for UK honey, and we have got a great opportunity. There is a real market for producing ‘a taste of Wales in a jar’.”


By her own admission, when growing up, Ros Ellis wasn’t particularly interested in her father’s beekeeping activities. But seeing the enjoyment her parents, Alex and Nicky, get from working together in what has grown to become one of Wales’ largest honey producers, prompted 23-year-old Ros to make a career change and embark on a bee farming apprenticeship with her family’s business near Wrexham.

She says, “Growing up, I never thought bee farming was something I would do – I love being outside, and I went to work at a clay pigeon shooting school. But I saw mum and dad producing honey together and how much they enjoy it, and I thought I’d like to be a part of that. There are so many things to learn, and every day is different.”

Ten years ago, Alex’s hobby transitioned into a new career, enabling him to grow the business alongside a role with the Bee Farmers’ Association. A move in 2016 provided the family’s enterprise – Border Honey – with much needed space to grow, and this year Welsh Government funding has helped them buy new equipment for their expanding honey processing facility.

Ros Ellis of Border Honey with a Queen Bee.

Growing its output year-on-year, today, Border Honey produces around 12 tonnes of honey over the season, which it supplies in bulk to a major Welsh honey packer and to food and drink businesses who wish to use Welsh or British honey in their products. 

Alex says, “We are very much a B2B operation, and there are two sides to our business as in addition to being a bulk honey supplier we have a specialist queen-rearing operation and produce queens for some of the biggest bee farms in the UK.”

He believes that training schemes and apprenticeships are good for individual businesses and the honey industry as a whole. 

He says, “Encouraging and investing in young people, who come with energy and ideas, brings a new dynamic to a business which has elevated our ambitions and accelerated growth.”

Being a member of the Honey Cluster—with the opportunities and support received—has been important for the company’s growth, he says. In turn, Border Honey has hosted visits and mentored fellow members, which has also helped shape the company’s direction.

Alex says, “Sustainability is important to us. We are accredited real living wage employers, and through Cluster conversations, we are also looking at pursuing BCorp certification.”

Ros, who has just completed her first year on the Bee Farmers’ Association Apprenticeship Scheme, supplements her hands-on experience at Border Honey with regular residential training weeks, during which she further develops her knowledge. 

Also, she will head to New Zealand early next year to learn about Manuka honey production. “It’s exciting,” she says, “and it will be very inspiring as the bee farm I’ll be working on has 10,000 hives.”

Now that she has found her passion, Ros has already identified her area of specialism. “I love the queen-rearing side of things in particular,” she says, “and I’d love to help build that up and see how far we can go in the future.”