Stacy Cronly-Dillon is the owner and head beekeeper at Sunnyfields Apiaries on the Norfolk and Suffolk border. With World Bee Day approaching, she explains how she made the move from brand marketing to beekeeping – and what we can all do to help save the bees in the run up to World Bee Day
Stacy Cronly-Dillon has been interested in wildlife since childhood. Her obsession with bees and beekeeping in particular came a bit later! She says: ‘When I was a kid my grandparents were wardens of an Essex wood, for the Wildlife Trust. I was surrounded by wildlife at a young age – not bees but every other creature.’ A self-described Essex Girl, Stacy’s career was far removed from being Head Beekeeper for Sunnyfields Apiaries on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
‘My career before was brand marketing I was working for a weight loss company,’ says Stacey. Prior to that I’d worked for an international drinks company. High level brand marketing is very glamorous but very stressful.’
So where did the love of bees come from? ‘I read Santa Montefiore’s book, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, and it got me thinking about bees, being a beekeeper and humanity. I started doing research around bees. I did some courses, joined a local beekeepers’ group in Essex and thought ‘this is something I would really like to do’. By the end of the first year, I was obsessed – super-duper obsessed – I wouldn’t stop talking about it.’
Stacy would bring up bees at every available opportunity, including at work meetings. If someone asked how she was she would say ‘I’ve just started beekeeping’. I started with a swarm rather than buying bees. One day at work I got a phone call saying that the swarm had been caught and was ready for me, and work said, ‘just go and get them!’ It was all encompassing.’
She adds: ‘I cried that first spring when I found out that they were still alive – the relief was just amazing. I just really went into their world and found this place where I felt completely at home. The main catalyst for me leaving my corporate career was that I was so stressed, I was physically and mentally ill. It got to breaking point – which happened to be on my 40th birthday.’ It led Stacy to a frank discussion with her husband about leaving corporate life and developing her obsession with bees into a new career.
Stacy continues: ‘I did all the training. I had two hives in the first year and 22 in the second year. By the end of my first year, I had started my business. I wouldn’t recommend it – it was a complete rollercoaster!’ However, Stacy noticed the difference in her stress levels ‘as soon as I gave up the 9-5 being outside in the open air.’
Stacy has been in the beekeeping business for five years in August and the main apiary is based near Hedenham. She moved from Essex in March 2021, but not before going on TOWIE (The Only Way Is Essex) with her bees, in 2020. ‘I had my 20 seconds on there. I’m more of an All Creatures Great and Small girl but they asked!’
Stacy and her husband found a place ‘half a mile from the nearest neighbour’ and with space for Stacy’s dad, who has multiple myeloma, ‘so I can keep an eye on him. We needed to find somewhere we could accommodate dad – and where the bees would have room to grow.’
They were soon drawn into the peace and quiet of the countryside. ‘Once we got here, we realised it had a slower pace of life – in Essex it was rush, rush, rush.’ It sounds as though Stacy has had to say ‘slow yew down’ to herself! ‘I still speak at speed, trying to get my point across in five seconds!’ But she has fallen in love with the area. ‘It’s just beautiful – with all the little independent businesses as well.’
It was important for Stacy to find somewhere that would be an ‘attractive proposition for people to visit. We are next to a 100-acre wood with hedgerows and meadows – it’s a good place to show off.’ Her aim is to educate and inspire those interested in making a positive difference to their patch, using honey bees as a window into the world of pollinators.
With the set-up at Sunnyfields, Stacey says: ‘What better way to introduce people to a colony of honey bees and explain how it works?’ She has developed an award-winning programme of experiences, beginner beekeeping training and beehive sponsorship packages to provide a bees-eye view of the world.
She says: ‘Not everyone wants to be a beekeeper, but you might be interested in nature and the environment and bees in general. My main thing is a bee experience, which is like a little window into the lives of bees. We get donned in very attractive bee suits, which is always amusing, and we will open a hive.’
Stacy has lots of fascinating facts about bees to impart and adds: ‘They are very relaxing to be around – they are like a ‘gateway drug’ for environmental discussions. People don’t want to be beekeepers all the time but are just fascinated.’ After the bee experience, there’s time for refreshments – and an opportunity to taste some honey. ‘We’ll sit in garden, and they can see the way the garden is set up to be a pollinator friendly garden. Everybody is different – some people can’t stop asking questions and some want to set up their own hive.’
As well as the experiences, Sunnyfields Apiaries offers training and sponsorship. ‘I do full-scale bee training for anyone who has decided that they wanted to become a beekeeper – to help people through their first couple of years; and I do corporate sponsorship, for companies looking for ways to support the environment.’
Although companies will receive a jar of Sunnyfields honey in the welcome pack, it’s not really about the honey. ‘The honey is something the bees make for themselves – we are not ‘honey first’.’ She is also available for speaking engagements: ‘I go into businesses and do talks – it’s all about getting the word out there.’
Stacey’s own fascination with bees continues: ‘I’m obsessed with the weather, and the bees are fantastic barometers of the weather – they can tell me when a storm is coming.’ She may still be ‘super busy, looking after dad, my husband and all the animals I’ve got now, but the business isn’t so stressful when you’re working with something so much bigger than you, and that grounds you. Bees have been around for millions of years – they were around when dinosaurs were around.’
The declining bee population has been well reported over the past few decades. World Bee Day, the organised by the United Nations, takes place on Saturday, May 20, and aims to raise awareness on the essential role bees and other pollinators play in keeping people and the planet healthy, and on the many challenges they face today.
What would Stacy’s message be, in advance of World Bee Day? ‘We can all make a difference – and tiny things can make a big difference. At the moment we’re in ‘No Mow May’. I’ve left big stripes in my lawn, and we get lots of flowers.
‘By leaving water sources such as little saucers with rocks in them; adding an insect hotel and just planting a few blossom trees or lavender or salvia in our garden, we can make a difference.’
Featured images – supplied by Plain Speaking PR