The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

John was the first Norfolk master beekeeper 

Norfolk’s first-ever master beekeeper is also a master of publishing as the treasurer of a successful church magazine for several South Norfolk  villages. Kevin Gotts reports.

The art of bee-keeping can be traced back for many thousands of years, including references in the Bible and in the Egyptian pyramids. Retired science teacher John Everett, from Rockland St Mary, is one if its modern-day practitioners and lays claim to being Norfolk’s first-ever Master Beekeeper, recognised by the British Beekeepers Association, after passing no fewer than 13 practical and theory exams back in 2009.

John met future wife Ruth in Uganda in 1969 where they were both teaching science. After returning to the UK in 1975, they moved to Rockland St Mary, where they have a small orchard and breed honey bees, sell beekeeping equipment and run beginner’s beekeeping courses. At present they have 30 hives in three sites at home or nearby.

John says he keeps bees because he enjoys the hobby: “This is beneficial to the environment, as bees help pollinate some flowering plants, honey sales helps pay for the hobby and lots of beekeepers come to their shop for equipment, advice and a chat. During Covid-19 some of the chats have lasted a long time!”

Unfortunately, with social distancing the beginner’s courses have not run in 2020.

“Beekeeping has been practised for very many thousands of years. There are stories of honey being found in the pyramids, and in the Bible references are made to the sweetness of honey and honeycomb and the venom of swarming bees. 

“Bees rarely sting when swarming but swarms in flight sound ferocious,” explained John.

“Bees are a group of insects that feed entirely on plants. Their source of protein, used mainly for growth, is pollen, the male sex cells of plants.  Nectar, a sugary solution to attract insects, is their main source of energy-giving carbohydrates.

“One of the biggest disadvantages of beekeeping surrounded by arable farms is the lack of wild plants. Bees need a succession of flowers through the spring, summer and autumn to feed their colonies and make a surplus of honey/food for the winter when they cannot forage,” said John.

John’s neighbours are paid to grow crops and weeds compete with crops, so are destroyed by herbicides. The lack of food sources also affects other wild animals like many of the smaller birds, he says.

“This year, some of the city beekeepers have been much more successful than country beekeepers,” says John, as there is a much bigger variety of plants in urban and city gardens.

John was invited to help beekeepers in Uganda in 2010 and says: “Beekeeping in Africa needs to be cheap to establish but honey can be a useful dietary addition as well as a source of income. Candles made out of beeswax gave the local people a source of light as most country homes did not have electricity.”

“All foraging bees accidentally pollinate flowers when they gather nectar and pollen,” explains John. “We are not totally dependent on honey bees as solitary bees and bumble bees do a lot of pollinating.”

John is also busy as treasurer of the “Eleven Says” church magazine, of which his wife Ruth is editor. It is given free to about 2300 homes in the eleven parishes of the Bramerton Group of churches. 

The recipe that works for the magazine is 40% local business adverts that pay for the magazine, and the remaining 60% as a mixture of church news and village news.

John said: “It relies on lots of folk who are willing to deliver the magazines at no cost.  It helps tell the community about what Christians believe and what the local church is doing. The village news, events and school articles encourage folk to read the magazine.”  

Pictured above is Norfolk master beekeeper John Everett. Picture by Kevin Gotts.

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