Bucks Berks & Oxon Bee Improvement (BBOBI ) – RG9

BBOBI was set up in 2019 as a co-operative in Henley-on-Thames, which borders Bucks Berks and Oxon. Although a large geographical area, the climate and forage are remarkably consistent across the area. As the first BIBBA group in the home counties, we aim to be a springboard for other local clusters, as they attract more members and hopefully set up their own regional groups.

Our Aims


To provide help, support and training to like-minded beekeepers. We encourage the sharing of educational material, the setting-up of group mentoring and small workshops by those more experienced. We encourage the sharing of knowledge to widen beekeepers expertise in queen breeding with the long term goal of bee improvement.

Breed a locally adapted dark honey bee

While we realise we are unlikely to be able to introduce a near native Apis mellifera mellifera (Amm) in the short to medium term, we wish to breed local adapted dark bees of the best genetic stock and to make these available to local beekeepers interested in establishing the sub species in their apiaries. We want to focus on temperament in the short term, with the aim of introducing other traits such as productivity, low swarminess and hygienic behaviour in the medium.

Hive nutrition and drones

We want to encourage beekeepers to actively seek out their best hive and encourage drone production using drone comb, and practice drone removal in hives of poor temperament. Poor drones are one of the main reasons for poor queens. They have a significant impact on the longevity of queens, because of poor mating and infertility.  This is thought to be caused by poor nutrition and chemical miticides. We encourage beekeepers to value and nurture their drones with the same care they would their queens.

Encourage the use of British hybrid queens

We want to encourage people to buy British and support their fellow beekeepers by buying locally adapted British hybrids. We want to discourage the use of the so called ‘Buckfast bee’ whose name has become synonymous with open mated mongrels of dubious pedigree.

Discourage the importation of foreign bees

Lastly, we wish to discourage the use of imported foreign bees. Both BIBBA and the BBKA are now actively encouraging British beekeepers to breed their own queens rather than buying bees.
Most pests and diseases we are now having to manage are a direct result of imports. Tropilaelaps and Small Hive Beetle will both be able to survive in our climate and it’s only a matter of time before they are introduced into the UK.  Each year we import thousands of queens from Italy, Greece and other parts of Europe.  We hope to encourage more beekeepers to raise their own queens, or at least buy local.


Initially, we plan to use an existing dark bee strain, which was first introduced by Reg Hook, a founding member of SCBKA and a tutor at Berks College of Agriculture. Reg has been breeding near native dark bees for over 20 years and has distributed stock to both members of Reading and Wokingham BKA while teaching at BCA, so it makes sense to continue his work in the local area.

Free Virgin Queens

Due to a lack of resources, attempting to distribute mated queens, would significantly slow the progress of spreading local genetics and being able to modify temperament. It was therefore proposed to give away marked virgin queens during 2019 to anyone prepared to monitor and record their progress over 2 years and to record their results on a group app called Hivelog. Any beekeepers with queens demonstrating good temperament would be asked to add a frame of drone comb in year two and may also be asked to provide a frame of larvae for grafting.

Using this method we can have the maximum effect, using minimum resources. We encourage others to do the same with their own near native stock, to maximise the distribution of selected genetics in the local neighbourhood.

contact Brian Green

by Duncan Heather & Brian Green

I would be surprised if I wasn’t the only one to be pleases to see the back of the 2021 beekeeping season.  For me personally, it was the worst season I’ve had in 15 years of beekeeping.  Cold weather then, near continuous rain, well into May, meant the queen rearing was off to a very slow start.  To put 2021 into context, I spent more money on buyer sugar to feed my starving hives than I did on Petrol.  When we did manage to get into the hives, they were small, due to lack of available forage and from there-on-in basically refused to build up.  Trying to find enough sealed brood and nurse bees to populate mating hives was a real struggle.

“To put 2021 into context, I spent more money on buying sugar to feed my starving hives, than I did on Petrol.”

When we did manage to set up a starter/finisher, the grafting success was well down on previous years.  And to add insult to injury, many queens that hatch out into roller-cages (despite being fed honey) where left to starve by the workers within 48 hours of hatching.  The bees just weren’t interested.  Something I have never experienced before.

Those queens that did make it, then had to battle wind and the rain to try and get mated.  And those that did, once laying, their nucleus colonies failed to build up sufficiently to go into winter.

What did we learn?
I suspect lack of forage due to poor weather and bad flying days was the main culprit.  Disease and varroa where almost non-existent in the hives.  We only treated twice, once in April and again in September and both times, mite drop was negligible.  We did an alcohol wash in July and only found 5 varroa in a total of 20 hives. 

Our Apiaries
The mating apiary is strategically placed, surrounded on 3 sided by woodland.  Meaning the main flight path for the bees is due south.  Approx. 1000m away, we have a second apiary where we keep the drone hives.  This way, we try to control (as best we can) the mating of our queens.

Its possible the mating apiary was over stocked last year for the available forage.  So this year we have decided to limit the number of full hives to 2 starter/finisher hives and 2 queen castles housing our AMM breeder queens which have come through the winter reasonably well. In addition, we will keep 20 No. 3 by 3 British national mating hives here.  The Drone Apiary will house 20 colonies which will be both brood factories and drone colonies. And we are excited to announce two new Nucleus apiaries 3 miles apart.  Here we will have 20 No. 5 by 5 British National brood boxes which will have additional 5 frame brood boxes added above, to make 2 story 10 frame hives.

AMM Nucs and Queens for sale
This set up allows use to bring on the queens into full lay and to assess their performance.  It allows us to sell 5 frame nucs or mated queens.  We can also supply spare virgin queens to BBOBI members to get mated in their own apiaries.

Education & Training
Last year we ran a series of workshops which proved to be very successful.  We were joined by 6 BBOBI members every Saturday and they spent the day with Brian Green and I, going through the entire queen rearing process.   We hope to do something similar this year, so watch this space for dates and times.

Joining BBOBI
If anyone from Bucks, Berks or Oxfordshire would be interested in joining BBOBI, please feel free to contact Brian Green directly and we wish all our members a very happy and successful beekeeping season in 2022.

We managed to raise over 200 virgin queens last year, all from local stock and distribute them to 67 BBOBI members for mating from early May until mid July. We would like improve our efficiency this year, we tried may ideas. Some worked really well, (grafting from our own stock), some things wasted time, (travelling to others hive to try grafting from there). It could be that we damaged the grafts during transportation – the experiment continues.

We have a few new additional stocks to try raising queens again this year. So if you are interested in joining the new list, please reply back to me and I’ll build the endless spreadsheet again. Obviously the CODVID-19 arrangements will halt this in the short-term, Queens can’t be delivered in early May this year, however there is no reason why we can’t try mating them and offering mated queens or even nucs to you in late June. We have been researching and making queen banks in the hope we can hold our best queens a little longer this year.

queen bank awaiting mesh

Another success from last year was the social gatherings at a local pub, this started in April and unless we can meet via a Zoom session, this is not going to be possible any time soon.

Remember that grafting is not the only way of raising your own queens and you might try saving some of those cells in the swarming season rather than knocking them back an artificial swarm procedure.  Save those queen cells, try making two frame nucs. You could also read up on the Miller Method, this is a good link: http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/millermethod.html

Keep an eye on the What’sApp group, it is the best way to make cries for help. If you’re not included, email me your phone number to be added to the thirty or so members on the group today.

If you do not wish to read these emails in future, please let me know and I’ll remove your email from the list.

Please share your rearing stories from last year, what went well and what challenged you? How did your over-wintering go? I’ll try to include in the newsletter to BIBBA. REply if you wish to be on the list to receive queens again like last year.

Good luck with your bees, look out for swarming!

Best wishes

Brian Green & Duncan Heather

We know everyone is busy, but thought we’d draft a little newsletter of the topics covered in March and April. Tried to keep it short, but please get in touch if you need more information on any of the topics. Links and names have been included to try help you Google your way.
As with all our communications – please make contact if you wish to be removed from the list.
  1. We’ll start with the wider activities of the group members:
  • Two social meetings at Row Barge Pub in Henley to further the education portion of our aims. Interesting discussions included lectures attended at the Spring Convention and understanding sources of black bees at stud stock. Questions about crop spraying raised interest in this website: https://beeconnected.org.uk/
  • Visit to Samlesbury Hall between Blackburn and Preston in the Ribble Valley
Affiliated with BIBBA, Gearing up for Sunday 19th May – World Bee Day.
Largest selection of different hive types we’ve ever seen in their teaching apiary, great shop, friendly team.
  • Work has started to collect data for the Plymouth Uni PhD project run by Victoria Buswell on the phenological brood cycles of our bees and temperament.
  • Cambridge BKA Winter Lectures included lectures by
    • David Evans – DWV and Varroa Timing – St Andrews Uni, evanslab.org.uk and The Apiarist Blog
    • Wally Shaw – Apicentric Beekeeping – Welsh BKA
    • Prof Gilles Budge – CBVP – Professor of Applied Crop Science at Newcastle University
    • George Clouston – Hive monitoring (Arnia)
  • Bee Tradex at Stoneleigh Park, shopping opportunity and change to catch Jo Widdicombe speak on raising his AMM bees.
  • Spring convention, really needs a separate report, but standout speakers include:
  1. Next we list the activities which are underway focused on rearing queens:
  • Selection of hives as genetic is well underway, there may be some standardisation required later with a Stud Book.  For the moment hive temperament and swarming tendency are being scored as selection criteria.
  • Drone were encouraged early by many members adding drone comb foundation to their hives in March during those few warm days
  • A cell punch kit has be made from the following instructions Polymath and Cushman – this kit is ready to be deployed.
  • The first modest batch of AMM grafts have been taken to standardise the method and educate the core team.
  • Queen cages are being prepared, either plastic bought at the Tradex or Benton Cages constructed from timber.
  • Mating preparations have started; making Queen Castles and attending lectures on Apidea management
  1. Activities we have planned:
We’ve had interest from new beekeepers and keepers wanting more bees. We can’t promise to supply nucs in this our first year, but if interested please get in touch and we’ll add you to the list.
Communications are doing really well via WhatsApp group, so if you wish to be involved, please make sure we have your mobile number, (email to Brian Green)
Membership of our group is growing really well, mainly from the BIBBA website and contact from our local BBKA organisations.
Please see:  https://bibba.com/bucks-berks-oxon-bee-improvement-bbobi-rg9/ and please spread the word about us.
Happy beekeeping!