The Traditional Environmental Knowledge of Beekeepers
: A Charter for Sustainability?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent years, dramatic levels of pollinator decline have captured the attention of scientists, policymakers and wider publics. This precipitous drop in honey bees and other pollinators threatens food security and biodiversity. Recent policy initiatives call upon multiple, diverse stake holders to work together for pollinator wellbeing, and wider ecosystem health. Many of these initiatives forefront beekeepers, whose role in both monitoring and ensuring bee health is recognised as paramount. This thesis investigates beekeepers’ knowledge of both honey bees, and the wider environment. Using archival analysis, interviews and participant observation, I demonstrate that long-term beekeepers generate and use Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) through their beekeeping practice. Their knowledge incorporates wide understanding of both the environmental factors that have affected pollinator health since the mid-20th century, as well as the socioeconomic and political drivers behind the physical deterioration of much of the environment that we, and pollinators, rely upon. This research project explores beekeepers’ knowledge within the context of debates on TEK, and Citizen Science. I explore the relationship between formal scientific research and other methods of environmental inquiry and engagement. While there has been a dramatic increase in media, public and scientific attention to pollinator and bee decline, this thesis documents a worrying dissonance between the knowledge and recommendations of long-term beekeepers, and the wider public’s understanding and actions, in response to this environmental challenge. Although beekeepers’ tacit understanding is often deeply infused with wider scientific knowledge, resulting in a uniquely hybrid knowledge, this research finds a hegemonic prioritisation of objectivist epistemologies, which results in a failure for the scientific and policy communities to fully engage with the observations and concerns of beekeepers. While TEK is recognised as supporting environmentally sustainable practices, this epistemological tension limits the capacity for the knowledge of TEK holders, and beekeepers, to be fully utilised.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorSarah Davies (Supervisor) & Michael Woods (Supervisor)


  • beekeeping
  • pollinator health
  • traditional environmental knowledge
  • citizen science
  • sustainability

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