Eight floors up on a roof overlooking the Clyde, Ed O’Brien’s ‘girls’ are settling down for winter in their very cosy, well-insulated home.

“They might be among the highest hives in the country,” says Ed, whose urban beehives are dotted around Glasgow, in gardens, parks and the former ­heliport beside the SEC on the Clyde.

“They could have a hard time up here over winter. So, they have got high tech, modern houses.”

The pink and white boxes don’t look like traditional beehives. And the bees, with their curious link to the monks of Buckfast Abbey, are more used to foraging around city centre parks than traversing countryside wildflower meadows.

While their location, on top of the Barclay’s Bank building in the heart of the city, is certainly at odds with the rural Cotswolds, where perhaps Britain’s most famous beekeeper tends to his hives.

Thanks to former footballer David Beckham, seen in his Netflix documentary series tending to beehives at his Cotswold home, looking after bees is officially ‘on trend’.

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Having been ‘stung’ by beekeeping as a lockdown hobby, his apiary has now produced dozens of jars of sweet honey.

In Glasgow, however, for Ed’s bees – among them ‘Bucky’ queens, sourced from bees originally bred by a 1920s monk at Buckfast Abbey and said to be very chilled out, mild-mannered bees – this year’s honey harvest could have been better.

“This has been an awful year for beekeepers,” says Ed, a beekeeper for nearly 30 years. In a good year, he can extract as much as 100lb of honey from a single hive among the 54 he looks after, scattered around the city, much of it destined to be sold in West End cheese shops and delicatessens.

“May and June were fabulous, but July and August were a washout.  It didn’t get above 19˚c in July, when they are looking for lime tree nectar and they didn’t get it. There were huge numbers of bees to be fed.”

On the upside, according to the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA), this year’s cold spring, blazing June, and damp summer, has also produced some distinctive flavours.

Urging consumers to indulge in local honey to mark National Honey Day, it says some beekeepers have noticed harvests with rich tasting and highly aromatic honeys due to trees flowering during early summer high temperatures.

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But the weather’s impact on honey is just one cause for concern for Scotland’s beekeepers.

Across the country, they are battling on all fronts – from the daily dramas of life in the hive to fearsome unwanted invaders and climate change to the use of pesticides and disease.

In an orchard on a farm near Longniddry and at their home near Musselburgh, beekeeper Colin Mackay and wife Deborah, who is secretary of the East Lothian Beekeepers’ Association, tend to a total of ten hives.

What may seem to be gentle hobby, explains Colin, is intense on both a physical and emotional level. Even now, as beekeepers put their bees to bed for winter, there’s the nagging worry over whether they’ll survive until spring.

While summer – usually a busy time of collecting honey and tackling sudden swarms, when a queen departs the hive taking thousands of bees with her - brought worry over a disease that threatened to wipe out millions of honey bees.

“We had the most awful blow this year,” he says, referring to the discovery of fatal bee disease American Foulbrood (AFB) and European Foulbrood (EFB) within the East Lothian group’s area.

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“American Foulbrood is by far the worst,” he explains. “It’s a major disaster. To deal with it, they have to take the bees, dig a hole, pour petrol in the beehive, put it in the hole and set fire to it.”

It’s believed around 25 hives across four apiaries in East Lothian were affected. With each hive containing up to 40,000 bees, fear spread among the association’s 90 members – whose might be next?

While at around the same time in Coldstream, two beekeepers were counting their losses – up to 300,000 honey bees are thought to have died as the result of chemicals used in gardens or agriculture.

According to the Scottish Government Bee Health Team, 22 AFB infected colonies were found in nine different apiaries, belonging to four different beekeepers in Scotland this year.

While 119 infected EFB colonies were traced to 71 different apiaries, belonging to 15 different beekeepers.

Although disease can crop up in apiaries looked after by even experienced beekeepers, there are concerns new beekeepers taking up the hobby – perhaps inspired to ‘save the bees’ for environmental reasons or to learn a traditional skill – may be unaware of the dedication it requires.

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“They are like pets, you have got to be prepared to look after them,” adds Colin, 74, who took up beekeeping more than 15 years ago.

“It's year-round, very expensive and time consuming, which is why it’s often people who are older who do it; they have the spare time and money.

“You don't come out of the beekeeper supply shop with any change from £100.”

East Lothian Beekeepers’ Association runs regular introductory courses for newbies, but Colin says many participants decide not to bother once they see the effort required. While the income from selling honey, he adds, barely covers the costs and can't compete with cheap, supermarket jars.

Those that do persevere, however, are rewarded with more than honey: the workings of the matriarchal hive with their short-lived female worker bees, undertaker bees clearing out the dead and the powerful queen at its heart, is a fascinating ‘soap opera’ that can encompass murder - when the old queen's job is done - distinctive layers of hierarchy, remarkable and survival.

“There's this image that you can put a hive at the bottom of the garden, and there's a tap at the corner that you turn, and honey pours out. It’s not like that,” he adds.

“It's a time-consuming exercise to get to the point where you can get a jar of honey.”

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Still, beekeeping has recently soared in popularity; there’s even a hive at the Scottish Parliament’s Members Garden, with the wax used for official seals.

According to BeeBase, the National Bee Unit’s voluntary database, as of June last year there were more than 3,000 beekeepers registered, looking after just over 40,000 colonies in 4400 apiaries.

While it sounds positive, the Scottish Government’s Honey Bee Health Strategy published last year, points out that “in Scotland and the UK, honey bees are not in decline, quite the opposite.”

It warns demand has led to an increase in imports of honey bee colonies and queens into Scotland, with concerns over bee health and the education of beekeepers.

While there is growing concern that in some areas managed honey bees “may have a detrimental effect on wild native pollinators and fragile ecosystems.

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“There is now emerging evidence that, in certain circumstances, there is potential for cross-transmission of pests/diseases and competition for food resources with wild pollinators.”

New pests and diseases are also a concern: Small Hive Beetle, which infests colonies, has travelled from Africa to Italy, a regular source of bee packages and queens for some beekeepers in the UK.

While a major threat is Asian hornet. Creeping ever northwards in record numbers this year, just one can consume up to 50 honey bees a day, and a swarm kill an entire hive.

On the island of Colonsay, Andrew Abrahams has kept his unique colony of bees for over 30 years.  He warns: “Asian hornet will be in the central belt within five years. It’s on the move.

“They haven’t been able to control it in Portugal and France and Spain; I don’t think they’ll be able to stop it here.”

Having arrived on Colonsay in the 1970s to farm oysters, he became the accidental protector of genetically important black bees after coming across a shed of equipment left behind from a defunct academic study.

Ten years ago this month, his bee colony’s importance to genetic conservation was recognised when the Scottish Government made it illegal to import any bee other than the Apis mellifera mellifera to the area.

As a result, his apiaries are free of devastating varroa mite, a common and unwelcome guest in hives around the country.

“Unfortunately, it’s become trendy to keep bees but it’s not good when too many people jump in,” he says.

“They are like any livestock: if they aren’t properly looked after, they die.

“People think ‘it’s just bees’, they go off, buy more, go on holiday and don’t look after them.

“You get swarms in buildings, and they become a problem.

“Fifty years ago everyone knew someone who kept bees, they were part of life and you had to respect them,” he adds.

“But now nature is seen through the television rather than real life.”