April 2024 BIBBA Monthly


  • Member Only Recordings on YouTube
  • Varroa Resistant Bees & Treatment-free Beekeeping
  • Beowulf my Mentor - Part 3
  • The Beekeeping Show - Telford
  • A Year of Garden Bees & Bugs - 25% off

AGM Reminder: Monday 25th March 7:30pm GMT

Join us on Zoom - registration details on bibba.com homepage

Queen Cells - Are They Always Bad News?

Queen Cells – Are They Always Bad News?

Webinar: Monday 22nd April 2024 - Roger Patterson

note change of date
Many beekeepers see queen cells in a colony as a problem and something that should be destroyed. This presentation will help beekeepers to understand them and treat them as an opportunity.

Member Only Recordings on YouTube

These webinar recordings are now available for members to watch.  You need to be logged in to see the link.

Increasing your Chances of Getting Through the First Five Years of Beekeeping

Increasing your Chances of Getting Through the First Five Years of Beekeeping

Karl Colyer
A simple summary of the top-level objectives over the first years as the colony increases in size and age and the beekeeper deals with the challenges and opportunities that being a beekeeper presents over that time-frame ...
Why the bees are also dying: the costs of artificial selection

Why the bees are also dying: the costs of artificial selection

Jacques van Alphen
Modern techniques of selective bee breeding have high potential to improve economically important traits of honey bees. However, this breeding neglects fundamental rules of natural selection ...

Varroa-Resistant Bees & Treatment-Free Beekeeping


We saw our first varroa mites in our hives on 2nd August 1998. It was our 13th season of beekeeping and although it was a shock it was not a surprise. The parasite had been in the UK since 1992 and official ‘non-movement’ orders on hives had not stopped its steady spread. We complied with National Bee Unit advice and treated with Bayvoral strips. Treatment at that time would catch hundreds of mites on the varroa trays. By 2007 the mites had developed resistance to flumethrin, the active miticide in Bayvoral, and we never used it again. For two years we then used DIY treatments with thymol that were recommended at the time; either dissolved in cooking oil on a strip of folded tissue, or crystals on strips of sacking across the top of brood frames. We also used oxalic acid as a 5ml dribble just once on a January day in 2008.

The year 2009 was significant in the history of our treatments against varroa. For the last time we treated just some of our hives with thymol crystals in March, and by the season end could see no difference between our treated and untreated colonies. We were also thinking a lot about what we had been observing over the ten years since finding the first varroa mite. Critical evidence to us, and contrary to some statements, was our observation of thriving wild living colonies. These were being found and sometimes rescued from houses in the course of building work. We were also finding and studying wild living colonies in trees that again, appeared healthy and vigorous. Mites could still be found in our our hives but the number was clearly decreasing. We’ve been treatment-free beekeepers ever since.

What was going on? The Press was full of doom and gloom bee stories – it was still the early days for social media but there were plenty of negative bee stories. How many remember the catchy acronym CCD? The vague but alarming concept of ‘colony collapse disorder’, much loved by the media, that came over from the USA along with films of huge losses in the industrialised American bee industry. On sunny days as we stood behind an open hive and observed our healthy and busy bees the anguish of the ‘outside bee world’ was a puzzle to us. In the spring of 2010 in an attempt to find out ‘what was going on’ in our local area we started to ask members of our own and neighbouring BKA about their beekeeping. This developed into five years of Winter Losses Surveys; questions asked and answers collected from individuals on a clipboard at Association meetings. We asked about hive types, number of colonies, if treated, how treated, colony losses, suggestions as to causes of losses, and any other thoughts. The results were published annually in the Welsh Beekeeper magazine.

In collecting this data we were surprised and delighted to discover that many beekeepers in north-west Wales were not using any chemical treatments, and amazingly, were experiencing fewer losses than beekeepers that were treating. By 2015 we had data collected over 5 years on 1573 over-wintered colonies. Of these the average loss for treated colonies was 19% while the losses for colonies that had not been treated was 13%.

More on this history and tabulated details of the surveys are conveniently shown as part of the presentation video from the 2023 BBKA Convention: https://www.varroaresistant.uk/advice/

There is an understandable concern about losing your own bees, especially if you are a beginner and only have a few hives. In our area however, beekeepers witnessed for themselves the healthy colonies of treatment-free colleagues and by 2023 our BKA had approximately 80 members, and none to our knowledge were treating their bees with miticides. No one that we know has returned to treating having stepped away from using miticides. It has been said that we are lucky in north-west Wales in a largely rural area of low intensity farming and woodland with wild living colonies. However, data from a survey of BKA’s in 2023 (Valentine & Martin) concluded that 1,800 was a reasonable estimate of beekeepers managing resistant colonies across the UK.

Why do some bees become tolerant to varroa? That is the question! Science is now catching up with the bees and a credible answer is available. The answer is: honey bees have the innate ability to repurpose existing hygienic behaviour enabling them to develop tolerance to varroa and are referred to as ‘resistant’. (Bees that are still vulnerable to varroa – possibly from long term exposure to miticides - are referred to as ‘susceptible’.)

In the UK Prof Stephen Martin, from Salford University, has explained the key mechanisms that have enabled honey bees to modify their behaviour to deal with varroa. The fundamental behaviour is the uncapping of cells and an associated series of actions that limit the breeding of varroa mites. A key concept is that honey bees are ‘pre-adapted’ to modify existing behaviours to deal with varroa; no fundamental evolutionary change is required for the bees to achieve this behavioural modification. All honey bees have innate hygienic traits required to control the varroa mite; they just need a chance to learn to use them.

In more detail, uncapping, i.e. removing the wax lid off pupae is not a new or novel behaviour; it has long been known that uncapping is associated with bees’ control of wax moth. Bees, with their highly developed olfactory system, will routinely investigate cells where they detect ‘off odours’. Initially small holes are made into the cell cappings. Different sets of worker bees appear to be tasked to undertake different stages of this process. Once a pupa suffering from varroa parasitisation damage is identified it will be removed, partially by removal of the pupa’s feelers (these can be identified on the inserts of mesh floors), and mainly by being eaten! Varroa offspring present in the particular cell will be destroyed. The mother varroa will escape this procedure because she has taken on the odour of the colony and cannot be detected by the bees. However, her offspring die and although she may try to rear again, her capacity to do this is limited and her subsequent offspring may well suffer the same fate as her first. Cells with healthy larvae mistakenly uncapped will be recapped. This complex behaviour reduces the number of varroa and the associated virus load in the colony and over time creates a stable balance between the host honey bees and the parasitic mites; the bees have developed natural varroa-resistance. How do you find out if your bees are ‘resistant’ or ‘susceptible’? We refer again, to the ‘go to’ website for this topic   https://www.varroaresistant.uk/  In summary, the ‘advice’ section of the website suggests three approaches; just stop treating and ‘see what happens’; secondly, obtain likely resistant bees with a swarm from a long-lived wild colony or another beekeeper with known resistant colonies. The third approach is to reduce treatments over time during which you observe colonies closely and only breed from the bees displaying resistant characteristics. Practical advice on the third ‘step-by-step’ approach is given by Westerham Beekeepers: https://westerham.kbka.org.uk/natural-beekeeping/ Westerham, a branch of Kent BKA, have been very successful with a project running since 2018 to cease using chemicals and gradually develop varroa-resistant bees. Steve Riley, BIBBA member and Chair and Education Officer for Westerham Beekeepers, has detailed their approach in a forthcoming book: The Honey Bee Solution to Varroa – A practical guide for beekeepers (Northern Bee Books).

Honey bees have been on planet Earth for tens of millions of years and left to themselves they can repurpose innate behaviours and develop natural varroa-resistance. Where miticides have not been widely used, for example in South America and southern Africa, this has already happened. The science is now being explained, and in the UK beekeepers can use practical and proven steps to help their own bees along the path to become varroa-resistant. More information about our treatment-free experience on our website https://beemonitor.org/

Clive and Shân Hudson

Beowulf. My mentor and friend – part 3

Beowulf with bee

The bees eventually came home as I left school. I did not know what to do after school so enjoyed a gap year, pre university, working at The Ministry of Agriculture Fisherys and Food (MAFF), thanks to Beo, now known as DEFRA. I worked in soil science but spent every opportunity to visit the entomology department. After work it was bees, curtesy of Beo. I learned about wing morphometry and bee breeding. How to select the best breeder queens and how to propagate them. The importance of record keeping was fundamental to improving bees so BIBBA cards were my chosen system having seen Beo use them from their inception. His writing was so tiny that he crammed lots of additional information on the cards but registering the percentage of black workers and docility, at each visit became critical in tracking the bees’ parentage. This was before DNA was discovered. It is interesting to see how, given queens produce varying levels of ginger banded and black workers over the years. In those early days, before varroa, queens regularly lived productive lives for three or four years. These were the tried and tested queens who became breeder queens. Selecting by colour and habit is still my preferred method of choosing breeding stock. Interestingly Beo talked about avoiding pests and diseases from abroad by importing bees. As an entomologist he was well travelled, and varroa was on his radar over forty years ago, even before it arrived in the UK.

Beo’s bees were housed in single standard national hives. His hive stands were made of angle iron, similar to large scale Meccano. Glass quilts were used on some hives. When inspecting the bees he never used gloves.  I related my first experience of being invited by the allotment beekeeper to visit his out apiary. In those days a simple hat and veil was used. No full length sheriff suits were available. I was advised to tuck my trousers into my socks as bees travel up-hill given the chance! Good advice but he failed to tell me that bee stings can go through socks! Alas I got badly stung long before I met Beo. I also realised then why Mr Rogers imported his Italians! That evening my ankles swelled enormously and the following day my shoes didn’t fit!

Beo explained that it is not the indigenous bee that caused aggression but the hybrid f2 generation that was the problem.  Imported queens bring their own genes and when they breed, their drones cause hybridisation with local beekeepers’ bees. These drones influence the local bee population creating serious problems for local bee improvement groups by cross breeding with our queens. Thus, the home breeder experiences aggression in his bees often in the F1 generation.

The F1 generation of the imported queen is often very productive and similar to the original mother import, because the import is relatively pure bred in its own environment. This is why Mr Rogers biennially imported new queens. However, in the F2 generation things are not so ideal.

The F2 generation comes from daughters of the imported queen. These daughters produce drones similar to their mother’s but their daughters (the worker bees) have mixed genes as a result of what she mated with. The drones are not influenced by the mating of the queen as they derive from unfertilised eggs. These drones continue to damage breeding efforts by local bee improvement groups for several years. If importation of queens could be stopped, our own naturally adapted bees would eventually revert to type. DNA testing can now prove that AMM is alive and well, contradicting the belief that Isle of Wight disease caused its extinction.  After years of breeding Beo had docile bees living in single brood chambers creating arcs of pollen around the brood and stores of food above. Originally Beo lost his gloves and decided to try to breed docile dark bees. My experience of Beo started some years after he had achieved a much-improved bee and following his guidance learned to handle bees without gloves. He taught me to be gentle, slow, and confident. To use minimal smoke allowing cool air a moment to calm the bees. I always light my smoker but very rarely use it preferring not to fill the bees with polluting smoke. I would not choose to breath in smoke so why fill a bee with it?

I joined The Village Bee Breeder Association (VBBA) as a life member for £15 and continue to subscribe to the principles and policies of the group. Although changes in the name have been agreed BIBBA evolved as the British Isles Bee Breeders Association becoming Bee Improvement Bee Breeders Association, improving bees and resisting the importation of none native bees remains. I will always be grateful to Beo for founding BIBBA and being my mentor and guide in those early years.


By David Buckley

The Beekeeping Show

by Lynn Cartwright


The Beekeeping Show at Telford draws beekeepers from all over the UK and many from Ireland.

With many of the major suppliers represented as well as smaller commercial enterprises this year’s event was made more enjoyable by the number of beekeepers visiting the BIBBA stand.

We were pleased to welcome and chat to beekeepers from the far north, yet to open their hives for the new season, to those in the south with their earlier spring and where weather and temperatures have been somewhat kinder.  Conversations with our colleagues and members from Ireland highlighted the common problems we face as beekeepers especially surrounding the import of queens and the continued marketing of Buckfast.

It was a day for renewing old acquaintances with past and present BIBBA members stopping by to catch up.

We sold a number of publications and were delighted to sign up several new members who we welcome to our organisation.

A big thank you to all who stopped by and we look forward to seeing you all again at both the WBKA Convention on the 23rd March and again at the BBKA Spring Convention at Harper Adams in April . We will have a stand at both so please drop by to talk bees, give us your feedback or just say hi!

A Year of Garden Bees & Bugs
52 stories of intriguing insects 

Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton
with illustrations by Lesley Buckingham 

ISBN 9781849947954 • RRP £20 • Hardback • Published by Batsford 14 March 2024

A fascinating journey into the secret life of insects, with QR codes linked to videos that bring every creature to life. 

Members can save 25% and  buy a copy of A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs by Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton for £15 (RRP £20), login to view the discount code. Valid until 30 April 2024 (UK only)

Publisher's Description:

Just as birds have yearly rhythms, so do bees, beetles, butterflies and other insects. In this book, wildlife experts Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton take readers on a journey through the seasons to discover 52 minibeasts from around the world.

They tell the story of what is happening week-by-week in the insect world, in our own backyards, window boxes and in hidden corners of our homes. From the daily grind of the house spider building a new web each morning, to the vast appetites of ladybirds, which can devour hundreds of aphids a day, and the glory of the Stag beetle’s maiden flight. We delve into the world of the lethal Sydney funnelweb spider in Australian gardens, the migratory mission of the Monarch butterfly in America and the life of the backdoor scorpions in South Africa. In among the seasonal behaviour, the authors have woven history and folklore.

These brilliant stories are complemented by wonderful illustrations by Lesley Buckingham that bring out the beauty of the entomological world. A QR code for each entry takes you to a video file to further explore the habits of these intriguing creatures. Revealing the true wonder of our insect neighbours, this book will appeal to all nature lovers.

Dominic Couzens is a British author and journalist specialising in natural history subjects. He contributes regularly to BBC Wildlife magazine and is a professional field trip guide. His critically acclaimed books include The Secret Lives of Garden Birds and The Secret Lives of Garden Wildlife. He is also the author of A Bird a Day and A Year of Birdsong. He lives in Dorset.

Gail Ashton is a wildlife photographer and writer with a passion for entomology. A few years ago she photographed and documented 500 UK invertebrates, which sent her down a path of discovery that has become a passion. She is the co-author of the book An Identification Guide to Garden Insects of Britain and North-West Europe. She lives in Hertfordshire.