When beekeeper Ian Richards got a call asking if he could help an injured Buddhist elephant, he was understandably a little taken aback.

The elephant, belonging to the Skanda Vale Buddhist community, near Carmarthen, had cut its leg on barbed wire and its keeper was looking for propolis to aid the healing process.

Ian said: “One of the trainee monks got in touch with me and one of his jobs was to look after the elephant.

“I supplied them with propolis and within a fortnight they got back to me and said it had worked marvellously.”

Propolis is a substance bees collect from tree buds and use to fill in small gaps in their hive.

It is widely used in many parts of the world because of its antibacterial properties, but the demand for the bee version of Savlon has only recently taken off in the UK.

“If a mouse died in the hive and the bees couldn’t get it out, they will embalm it in propolis and it will be there for eternity,” explained Ian, who harvests the substance by covering the hive with a perforated sheet of hardwood, waiting for the bees to fill the gaps, and freezing it out.

A few weeks after the propolis delivery, Skanda Vale were back in touch with the Wiston beekeeper.

“They must have been pleased because they bought a hive off me,” said Ian.

Ian started collecting honey as a schoolboy more than 60 years ago and his company, West Valley Honey, now has more than 360 hives scattered around Pembrokeshire.

Even with this level of production, the company is finding it hard to keep up with demand, largely because disease has decimated 60% of the bee colonies in north, mid and south Wales.

Next week, Ian and his wife, Shirley, will be travelling to the True Taste awards in Cardiff, where they have been nominated for two awards for their speciality crunchy honey mustard and their sustainable business.