We met Paula Carnell at Chelsea Flower Show earlier this year and over a glass of Newt Hotel cider we heard about her fascinating life as a world renowned bee expert. Following a debilitating illness, Paula was forced to step away from her work as an artist and rebuild her health and life with the astonishing healing power of bees and their precious honey. We chatted with her about her fascinating journey.
Tell us about your fascinating journey from successful artist to bee keeper, honey taster, writer and speaker?
Prior to diagnosis, my husband had built me a beehive so that I could keep bees, a yearning I’d had for many years. Unable to care for them myself, a local beekeeper populated them with bees and taught me how to manage the colony. I was shocked after our first honey harvest when the bees were then fed with white sugar fondant. I had already realised that my health was much worse whenever I consumed sugar, and so the thought of feeding wild insects sugar really shocked me.
After my diagnosis I became a patient of Lucy Jones, a local Medical Herbalist. Within 8 months I was out of the bed and wheelchair, able to care for myself and walking using a stick. A few months later my mother introduced me to plant based minerals, and that was like someone flicking a switch and I was able to walk again within a few short weeks.
How did you first start working with bees?
I’d always been fascinated with bees, yet I was also terrified of them, and practically any other insect. Years of being bed bound forced me to learn to embrace a lone fly or spider from my bed, and unable to flap or run away when a more threatening bee or wasp entered my space. Having a colony of my own in our garden seemed like a perfect distraction from my ailments. I was focusing on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t. I knew that painting was no longer an option, and the grief of losing that whole aspect of my life needed managing. A new hobby was key. I was unable to read or even listen to the radio or audio books for a few years so I was dependent on short bursts of communication from friends and family. Chris ‘Bees’, would arrive each week and I would be wheeled out or propped up near the hive as he explained what he was doing. As my health recovered, I took more interest in the management of bees, realising that my views were contrary to conventional beekeepers. I felt intuitively that using smoke, feeding sugar and using chemicals inside the hive was not good for the bees. I learned from my own health that I needed to be as natural as possible. I then began a mission to find the science that backed up my intuition. I was also able to travel around the world, meeting beekeepers who had healthy bees naturally. It was wisdom from other beekeepers that inspired much of my work, and my two books, Artist to Bees, and Bees in Bhutan.
What role does nature and the natural world have in your mental and physical health today?
I live a completely natural life. I began studying medical herbalism seven years ago and I am now in my sixth year of good health. I maintain my health by eating chemical free food, drinking pure filtered water, daily bathing in Epsom salts, oil pulling and avoiding stress! Working with bees is a meditative act and so I like to spend as much time as I can with my bees. I have 15 of my own colonies, each of which has a different temperament! I treat the honey, propolis and wax from the hive as the medicine they are, and am fascinated by their choice of forage, watching the different coloured pollens going into the hive. Living this way feels completely normal to me, until I travel or am outside of my local environment. I can see how far removed from nature so many, in fact much of the world, is and that saddens me greatly. Living naturally is so simple, and would benefit all of us tremendously in my opinion. Remembering that we are indeed part of nature, not separate, or as some would believe, above it!
We know you are consultant bee keeper for the wonderful Newt Hotel in Somerset, where else do you work with bees?I was tremendously lucky to have become involved with the newt 5 years ago during the planning and development stage. Having the confidence to ask to put into practice what I was doing on a small scale, with the Newt also having the confidence to trust me with what I was doing! By going against the conventional practice, and not buying in any bees, growing our colonies ‘organically’ from the local stock, is a slower way of working with bees, yet key to sustainability and not having a detrimental impact on the local populations of pollinators. Five years in we now have between 16 and 20 colonies of bees, all healthy and with honey production. I am also blessed that my work has been since become involved with projects globally. Many are still in the development stages, and some are more established. My clients range from Dorset and Wales and the Lake District, to Lebanon, Madagascar, and Mexico! Each project has a different emphasis, yet the health of the bees and their environment is always the key factor.
You speak internationally on the topic 'What is Killing the Bees is Killing Us' - what is the problem as you see it and how can we help?
Over the years, and with my travel, I have seen that we share the same environment as the bees. It is a combination of environmental factors that are affecting our bees and so it seems natural to me that we would also be affected. How can the pesticides and fungicides we use to grow our food kill the pollinators, and yet not have an effect on those who eat it? Bees are impacted by so many stressors, conventional beekeeping being one of them. Polluted air, water soil, EMFs (Electromagnetic frequencies) and a stressful life all lead to dis-ease and maintaining a healthy balance is essential for our bodies to remain healthy. Anything outside of nature has a consequence and puts strain on our bodies. I believe that the most important thing we can do to help bees is eat, grow, and buy chemical free food. This shift in consumer purchasing will in turn return our agriculture to more regenerative and sustainable systems, after all everything comes down to the power of the pound or dollar! The second most important thing is to grow more native flowering plants to provide food and nesting sites for not only honeybees, also the 270 other species of bees we have in the UK.
Do you have a favourite honey based recipe you can share with us?My favourite honey is dandelion, and I’d love it to be more available. The trouble is that so many spend time and money destroying it that it is a tough honey to harvest. Also due to it blooming in early spring, if the weather turns we can’t open the hives to harvest it! I have over 300 honeys in my personal collection, and I prefer not to cook with honey, usually eating it straight from the jar, or hive if I can!