LOCAL BEE INITIATIVE
As a new initiative for 2021, SDBKA is supporting BIBBA's National Bee Improvement Plan (actually in a slightly stronger form). The simple message is "please do not import bees" into our Salisbury area, but instead use locally-raised bees. There are a number of positive reasons why this is strongly advisable, and also reasons why importing bees and most purchases from commercial suppliers are damaging:
Since at least the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, the European honey bee Apis mellifera has been evolving to adapt to local conditions. This has resulted in different subspecies native to and adapted to the conditions in different parts of Europe, with Apis mellifera mellifera the native bee in northern Europe, including the UK and Ireland. Imports of bees over the last 100-150 years have been considerable, with over 20,000 queens imported into the UK in 2020 from the EU alone — almost all of which are not of our native, adapted bee.
Commercial producers typically don't supply bees that are locally adapted, and often not even of a stable strain. It is well known that Buckfast bees, a hybrid of subspecies, are docile and productive initially, but their temperament one generation later after open-mating is typically much poorer, and often unworkable a generation later. This is due to heterozygosity when interbreeding with local drones. Some beekeepers attempt to solve this for themselves by continually buying new queens, but this perpetuates the damage that their drones impact on characteristics of other local colonies as they requeen.
Bees have reproductive behaviour which causes their genes to spread over a distance. A queen typically mates with 10–20 drones, and can mate with drones from colonies over 9mi distant and is likely to mate with at least one drone from a colony half this distance away. From this we can see one beekeeper's bees are likely to affect the genetics of every other colony within a few miles whenver it requeens by open mating.
In addition, importing of bees to an area can present a biosecurity risk. Varroa was almost certainly introduced into the UK via imported bees.
A.m.m. genes are estimated now to represent about 40% of honey bee genes in the UK. Despite the large amount of hybridisation, particularly in much of England, fairly pure A.m.m. colonies are known to persist, particularly in the harsher climates of Wales, N England and Scotland and Ireland where they're better able to survive. This gives hope that if importation of bees stops then locally adapted, genetically stable populations can establish themselves again, and the heritage of these native bees preserved.
With a stable population of bees in our area, undisturbed by continual imports of bees with non-local adaptations, it should become easier for beekeepers to select for desirable characteristics, such as good temper or varroa resistance, within the local strain.
I hope you will agree that all of this is worth working for, and you can show your support by filling in the form here.
To help support this initiative, we have been running a programme over the last two years to make Association-produced nucleus colonies of bees available to our members, and particularly to our new members. In the first year we supplied full-sized nuc colonies, and the second year we attempted to reduce the amount of work falling to those raising these colonies by raising smaller nucs with either a virgin or mated queen which could then be built up by the recipient. In 2023, the provisional plan is that one of our members will continue to provide nucs with locally raised bees, produced from a queen of good temperament, on a commercial basis but at very competitive cost. We intend also to have available mated queens of local heritage and good temperament, at least in small quantities, which can be used by more experienced beekeepers who want to increase the number of colonies they run, or build up new colonies, so there really is no need to import or buy bees from outside our area. Further details of our nucs and queens can be found on the members-only part of our website here.
More information on BIBBA's NatBIP programme and the merits of it can be found in the recordings of their 'Season Three' Webinars, available here.