The Clark celebrates tiny, but important ally: bees

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CAROLINE BONNIVIER SNYDER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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WILLIAMSTOWN — Thousands of honeybees are creating their own masterpiece at The Clark Art Institute.

Buzzing in and around three hives perched atop the Manton Research Center, the vitally important insects have produced an abundance of honey while helping pollinate the wild and cultivated plant life on the 140-acre campus.

"[The bees] are helping nature thrive. They are one of the few insects who are giving," said Clark Director Olivier Meslay.

The apiary project started a year ago continues The Clark's philosophy of environmentally sound practices that includes rain gardens, green roofs, porous asphalt, geothermal wells for heating and cooling and more chemical-free landscape management, according to museum officials.

"I could see no better way to highlight our sustainability than through bees," noted Matthew Noyes, The Clark's grounds manager.

Noyes, Meslay, local beekeeper David Thayer, who set up the museums beehives, and Kim Skym, coordinator of the state's apiary program, shed light Sunday afternoon on the importance of honeybees to the environment and the need to protect them from mostly man-made harm.

The panel discussion highlighted the day's activities for the public to learn about "Clark Buzz," the art museum's honeybee sustainability initiative. Visitors got a chance to taste the first harvest of Clark honey, handle beeswax, make native seed bombs or a backyard bee house.

Representatives of Bee Friendly Williamstown were also on hand to encourage pesticide- and herbicide-free management of one's property to protect bees, hummingbirds, bats and other pollinators.

"Our pets and our children also benefit, as there are risks to using chemicals," said Bridget Spann of Caretaker Farm in Williamstown.

Spann and Anne O'Connor help lead Bee Friendly, formed last year after the Williamstown annual town meeting passed a nonbinding article to encourage awareness, education and voluntary support of pollinators.

Armed with a $10,000 grant from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Bee Friendly wants Williamstown businesses and homeowners to think twice about pesticide and herbicide use.

"You can stop spraying, let the lawn grow a little longer and plant native species," O'Connor told The Eagle.

She also urged consumers to buy plants that haven't been treated with pesticides.

Bees have been dying off in the U.S. due to environmental changes, wide use of pesticides and destruction of bee habitats, according to several environmental groups. It is a growing problem for food production because without honeybees pollinating trees, shrubs and flowers, food crops suffer. Recently seven species of domestic bees were identified as endangered.

Beekeepers and their advocates are backed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources through its apiary program of education and regulatory enforcement to ensure bees are kept out of harms way.

"Sometimes we call ourselves the 'Bee Police,'" quipped Skym.

However, Skym says it's up to individual landowners to change their ways. For example, dandelions, the scourge of many a homeowner, will be popping up soon, to the delight of the pollinating insects.

"If you leave those dandelions alone, you'll get a lot of bees," he noted.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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