Traditional forestry craft

Cultural form of beekeeping

​Forest tree beekeeping is a craft with a deep cultural code and rich heritage. It is part of the natural and public space.


The initial form of cultured beekeeping, which includes the care and protection of bees in their natural habitat (forest, swamp and meadow biotopes) in adapted hollow- and trunk-hives.

Traditional craft is based on a deep cultural context: knowledge of the surrounding world, customary law, tangible/intangible culture, rites and traditions, folk cuisine, medicine, etc.

Манета з пчалой


Бортны знак

 The bee is a divine creature of the local forests, meadows and swamps. Tree-beekeeping ('Bortnik') defines bee and slepeta (svepeta) separately. He interacts with the first one during the year (takes care of and protect), respects and protects the second one, because she herself settles in the forest and a natural hollow.


The bee is a living sacred creature that has firmly entered the life of Belarusians, Poleshuks - songs, legends, beliefs, riddles, proverbs, similes, fairy tales, etc.

​Бджола й сьогодні є священною для бортників — адже її вбивство вважається рівним убивству людини. Досі людина не приручила її – а живе з нею. Тому бортники кажуть: «Мед не я збираю, а бджола». А хоч бджола вжалила, кажуть, що поцілувала.


​Even today, the bee is sacred to tree-beekeepers - because killing it is considered equal to killing a person. Until now, man has not tamed her - but lives with her. That's why the tree-beekeepers say: "I do not harvests honey - but the bee". And even if the bee stungs, they say it kisses.


Бортны знак

​Forests, marshes, meadows are the natural conditions for the bee's existence: its residence and activity.
Without a real forest (an old forest with a different composition of plants, old trees, flowers and dead wood) and an old tree - the tree-beekeeping cannot exist.


Pine- and oak-forests groves are living places where the queen (queen bee) settles with her swarm. Hollow and old trees are most suited to the nature of bee swarm life.


Tree-beekeepers respect the tree where the bees live and the hollow-hive is made or the trunk-hive hangs. They call Stoila and bring him bread, take care of the area around him.


Бортны знак

The first mentions of tree-beekeeping go back to the 10th century, when travelers from different parts of the world visited the forests of the modern territory of Belarus and described them as a land where rivers of honey flow.

Already in the 10th century norms of customary law were written down in "Ruskaja Prauda" (articles related to bees, hollow-hive and signs) - "If bees are removed, then 3 hryvnias will be sold, and for honey, if the bees are not died, then 10 kuna; if there is an hive (vulej), then 5 kuna".


Already in the 16th century tree-beekeeping reached the level of a separate branch of the Grand Duchy of Litvanian (GDL) and was in the period of the Golden Age of tree-beekeeping. It is indicated on maps, engravings, and is often found in official documents. In the III Statute of the GDL, it even included separate articles (Who would have a dispute about cutting or entering the old forest; Statute for a tree; Price for bees; About the old forest, about fishing, about a tree-beekeeping tree, about lakes and haystacks), which by the standards of the time was big achievement.


Бортны знак

Norms and order in tree-beekeeping was established by customary law - law that is not written down on paper, but is passed down through the family and community (professional or local). And today, customary law survives and operates among the tree-beekeepers as a hereditary law.


Thus, tree-beekeepers adhere to the right to property (trunk-, hollow-hives, trees and bees), use trunk-hives and bees as a means of exchange and gift, the heritage of passing the craft from father to son, sparing use of natural resources, giving equality to bees and humans. Previously, a special property mark was used - a tree-beekeeping sign.

​On Polessie land in the old time, when tree-beekeeper caught a villain, the poor guy's intestines were pulled out from his navel, attached to a tree and chased around him until he fell dead. Sometimes when they caught a villain on a tree, they removed the ladder and left him at a height of 5-10 meters. Such a thief had to climb on his own, sometimes he fell and it was good if he did not break anything and returned home alive.

hollow-hive / trunk-hive

Бортны знак

Hollow-hive is an artificial hollow in a living tree (derived from an ancient word meaning an empty space inside, i.e. a storeroom). The craft got its name from this type of 'dwelling'. Hollow-hive is made at a height of 4 to 15 meters in pine or oak. Such the hive has served more than one generation of tree-beekeepers.


A trunk-hive is an indestructible hive, the same as a hollow-hive, only in a dead tree. A trunk-hive is made in the same way as a hollow-hive, has the same parameters, but the tree-beekeeper can make directly in the forest or in his estate. Trunk-hive sizes vary by tree-beekeeper.

​A trunk- or hollow-hive has a cap, head, middle, sole (heel), shoulders and ribs.

TREE-beekeeping tools

Бортны знак

A tree-beekeeper can be recognized by the three corresponding tools: žeń-leziva (liazo, laziva, lina, plieć), piešnia, lazben (labzen, korob).


The most interesting is the žeń-leziva made from the skin of an elk, bull, cow, bear, or from hemp, bark. This device has a horn, a heel, a saddle, a liežaja (extra part), a knot, a tail. It is used for climbing on a tree, fixing at a height and descending, as well as for lifting a lazben, an ax and other tools while working with bees.

Piešnia - a long-handled chisel for hollowing out a room in hollow-hive or trunk-hive. It consists of an iron shaft and a wooden part.

Lazben - a vessel made of linden bark for harvesting honey in honeycombs.


Бортны знак

​Traditional tree-beekeeping includes both specific practices in the making of trunk-hive, hollow-hive, tools and devices that are an integral part of forestry craft, as well as a wide layer of knowledge about animal and plant life, skills and knowledge related to wood, metal and leather work, elements of intangible culture - all this is an integral part of traditional tree-beekeeping and acts as a kind of cultural code of the community, families and regions.


​In today's conditions, tree-beekeeping has survived as a traditional forestry craft with a deep cultural context, which has absorbed sustainable practices and approaches (finding a suitable place, recipes for attracting a swarm, making a trunk-hive, care and protection of bees), transmission mechanism (inherited, through informal learning) and preservation of craft (good-neighborly relations of man with the natural environment, animal and plant life), rich intangible heritage (professional dictionary, toponymy, customary law, rites, superstitions, folklore, folk cuisine and medicine).

Tree-beekeeping Signs

Бортны знак

Tree-beekeepers marks their tools, trunk-hives and hollow-hives with special marks (signs) to mark their ownership.

 The tree-beekeeper's sign (or mark, badge) is a combination of geometric shapes of various types: triangles, straight and oblique lines, oblique crosses, etc. - the combination gives more complex shapes.


Each part of the tree-beekeper's sign has its own name and can be read from it - examples of names have been preserved in historical literature: hare ears, saha, border, squirrel and others.

Today, a tree-beekeeper's sign or mark can be found on old trees, on the special boards of some owners, on the tree-beekeeper's main tool - such as žeń-lieziva (special rope).

Present day

Бортны знак

On the territory of the Belarusian and Ukrainian Polesia, tree-beekeeping with minor changes has been preserved and not interrupted for at least 500 years.

 More than 300 families practice tree-beekeeping in the villages of Belarus (mainly in the Palesian region).


Modern tree-beekeepers preserve the tradition of their great-grandfathers and use traditional tools to make trunk- and hollow-hives, climb a tree, melt wax and make candles from it, hold the tips and approaches handed down to them by their ancestors.


Бортны знак

In October 2017, a private initiative for development of the traditional tree-beekeeping "Brotherhood of Barefooted Tree-beekeepers" was founded.

In the same year, "Forest Tree-beekeeping of Belarus" was inscriped into the State List of Intangible Cultural Value of Belarus. And since 2018, with active participation and initiative, work has been started to make this craft of internatonal importance. In 2020, the joint nomination Tree-beekeeping Culture of Belarus-Poland is included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.


PURPOSE. Preservation, popularization, development of traditional tree-beekeeping and ensuring the continuity of the national authentic tree-beekeeping tradition.

PHILOSOPHY AND APPROACH. Returning the bee to its normal habitat (forest and bog biotopes) through the restoration of best practices and traditions for sustainable development and biodiversity.

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