THE first time I tasted honey has stuck with me. Pure honey was a rare delight in 1970s Edinburgh. We were away on holiday, somewhere in the Highlands with peaty water and hairy caterpillars.

Dad appeared, smiling, golden treasure in hand – a neatly wrapped honeycomb. Toast and butter was served and wee me was allowed to carve through the delicate wax pockets to release the fragrant beads which softened and oozed across hot butter-slathered bread. The taste and the texture transfixed me.

Enid Brown keeps hives on farmland in Kinross and Milnathort. The daughter and granddaughter of beekeepers, she is modest about her achievements and positions in the world of apiary, but they are so plentiful it takes us several minutes to decide on introducing her as the Director of the World Beekeeping Awards, Brown explains the important care of the wee insects that have been at the heart of her world for 30 years. The hive has a brood box with frames where the queen lays her eggs and brings on the young.

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The nectar and pollen brought into this area by worker bees are left for their winter stores. Above the brood box are the frames where the excess goes, making the honey that will be harvested.

“Bees spread the nectar around [the] frame and build it slowly, adding enzymes as they go. Then, the bees at the entrance of the hive fan the combs so it goes from 80% to 20% in volume. The bees will cap it when it is ready.

The honey Brown collects is available in small batches through the local farm shop, the provenance clearly displayed.

As is often the case, it pays to check the label. Honey fraud is big business. Earlier this year, the European Commission published the EU-wide investigation From the Hives ( In 2015-17, 14% of tested honey was found not to meet EU requirements.

This year, the report found that 46% of the honey tested in the EU was suspected of being adulterated – and a shocking 100% of the honey tested from the UK failed to meet requirements.

The European Commission report says this is “likely the result of honey produced in other countries and further blended in the UK before it is re-exported to the EU”.

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In 2021, the UK imported 29,948,600kg of honey from China, according to the World Bank. The UK’s country of origin labelling rules mean lower quality imports can be obscured by the catch-all “produce from more than one country”, and Brexit means the quality we once took as the norm no longer is standard.

“Local provenance is really important. Look for the name of the beekeeper on the jar to be sure you are getting the real thing,” says Matthew Richardson, president of the Scottish Beekeepers Association. “If you are buying local honey from a beekeeper, you will enjoy unique batches and flavours depending on the flowers the bees have been feeding on, which changes according to the season.

“I often get people tasting my honey saying, ‘I had no idea that’s what honey tastes like’. When you buy supermarket honey, you are getting something sweet and a bit floral but when you buy small batch local honey it is as unique as a single malt.”

The tiny star of the show for Scotland’s most avid beekeepers is the native black bee: perfectly adapted for our challenging seasons. There are concerns imported bees will displace our native stock, well as introducing catastrophic diseases to wild populations.

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“Many are interested in keeping native bees because they are survivors. With the changing climate, everything is going to be chucked at us. I think the black bee will be crucial for generations to come,” says Andrew Abrahams, a resolute figure whose campaign to collect and protect dwindling native populations in hives near his Colonsay home saw the Scottish Parliament pass The Bee Keeping (Colonsay and Oronsay) Order 2013, which prohibits the keeping of honeybees other than the native Scottish bee on these islands, now part of the United Nations Environment Programme.

“It was the Europeans who pushed me to establish the reserve, so I set to get legislation. That was almost a 10-year struggle. If we hadn’t had devolution, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Andrew tells me.

The Scottish Government currently is working to publish a map of disease-free areas where pockets of native Scottish bees exist across Scotland, with a view to further protecting these important populations

One plea which I heard from each of the beekeepers I spoke to: if you want to help pollinators, don’t keep honeybees, they are being looked after – it is the wild pollinators which could do with our help.

Plant Scottish wildflower seeds; keep green spaces a wee bit messy: dead nettle canes, old empty snail shells are the kinds of places bumblebees lay their eggs.

If you tidy your garden in the autumn too enthusiastically, you could be composting the next generation of wild pollinators quietly waiting for spring.

Ruth Watson is the founder of the Keep Scotland the Brand campaign