BIBBA Monthly – November 2021

BIBBA Monthly – November 2021

BIBBA Monthly – November 2021

What is BIBBA for?

Selwyn Runnett
Chair of BIBBA

Ever since I have been a Trustee of BIBBA, a small number of beekeepers know exactly why BIBBA exists and what it was set up to achieve. However, I have heard many more beekeepers say they are not clear why BIBBA exists or what it does. They think it’s something to do with “preserving the black bee” or “promoting native bees”, or they simply don’t know. As an organisation we need to take responsibility for not getting our purpose and our key messages across to the wider beekeeping community.

However, as members of BIBBA, do all of us fully understand its purpose? Some of us think it is an organisation that should prioritise conservation whilst others think it is about bee improvement. So, what is BIBBA for exactly? The clear answer can be found in its legal charitable objectives, which were put together by the founders. These tell us it exists for the:

  • Conservation
  • Restoration
  • Study
  • Selection, and
  • Improvement

of native honey bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) and near-native honey bees

The current Trustees are committed to BIBBA fulfilling all of its Objects. So, for example, we are developing a range of Special Apiary Projects focussed on the conservation of existing populations of Amm. Our Research and Technical work provides for the study of a wide range of issues relating to native and near-native bees. Our flagship National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP) not only looks at the selection and improvement of our native and near-native bees, but recognises that quite often beekeepers need to start out by breeding and rearing locally adapted bees. This provides a route towards developing near-native strains which are adapted to their locality. In turn, this will create a pathway for the restoration of near-native strains of honey bee. We are now developing the next phase of NatBIP which will enable a much larger number and range of beekeepers (both non-commercial and commercial) to get involved.

All this is supported by our Education & Training Programmes that allow beekeepers to study and improve their understanding of native, near-native, and locally-adapted bees. These Programmes aim to develop practical skills in breeding and rearing, and also skills in general bee husbandry. Underpinning everything is a new approach to marketing, media and communications. We all now live in a digital society. If BIBBA is to succeed in communicating its key messages about sustainable bees and sustainable beekeeping, it needs to learn all the relevant skills that will equip it to win the arguments for locally-adapted bees and a future for beekeeping based on native and near-native strains of bee.

At the recent National Honey Show in England, someone told me that BIBBA was “the right organisation, in the right place, at the right time – the question was: will it fulfil its potential and achieve its long-standing objectives?” As a group of Trustees, we all know that we have a lot to do to take BIBBA forward in the future. However, we are absolutely committed to ensuring it achieves its potential to change beekeeping for the better.

Will the Irish Republic Ban Honey Bee Imports?

We have been greatly encouraged by efforts in the Republic of Ireland to ban imports of honey bees. BIBBA has always been of the view that the first stage in the restoration of populations of native and near-native bees is to phase out and then ban imports of queens, nucs and package bees from outside of the UK and Ireland.

On the 20th October our friends in the Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS) advised that a Bill will be introduced to the Seanad (the Upper House of the Irish Legislature): the ‘Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021’. If this becomes Law, it will ban the importation of non-native honey bees with the aim of reducing the threat to and adverse impact on bio-diversity and the eco-system arising from the introgression/cross-breeding of the native Irish Honey Bee caused by the importation of non-native species or sub-species.

BIBBA has always had Members in both the Republic and Northern Ireland and fully supports this initiative which we very much hope becomes Law. BIBBA has also supported the Statement Against Importing Non-Native Honey Bees into Ireland. BIBBA would like to see similar legislation enacted in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (policy on pollinator issues is devolved within the UK).

BIBBA becomes a Specialist Member Organisation of the Welsh Beekeepers Association

At its June Council Meeting, the Welsh Beekeepers’ Association voted to admit BIBBA as a Specialist Member Organisation. This entitles BIBBA to attend the WBKA National Council as a non-voting Member. This parallels a similar category of membership that BIBBA holds with the BBKA in England.

The new arrangement will give BIBBA a voice at the heart of beekeeping in Wales and is a significant step forward in our efforts to build networks across all parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. In the next twelve months BIBBA Cymru/Wales will be developing a number of initiatives and, depending on COVID, a number of meetings and events for BIBBA Members in Wales.

The Native Irish Honey Bee Apis mellifera mellifera

Launched on the 18th September by our close friends and colleagues in Ireland, this book will become a ‘go to’ source of information not just for beekeepers in the island of Ireland but for all beekeepers who keep Amm bees or who want to know more. It covers all the essentials: What is a native Irish honey bee? Consideration of honey bee genetics (which will become an increasingly important issue in the 2020s as our knowledge of honey bee genetics increases), conservation, bee improvement and queen rearing, and a review of the past, present, and future for the native honey bee in Ireland. This is not just an excellent read, it is one of those books that you will keep going back to time after time.

reviewed by Selwyn Runnett

Sandringham Native Bee Project

One of BIBBA’s Members, Eric Marshall, approached the Trustees to see if they would support a project to breed and rear native bees. Eric lives close to the Royal Sandringham Estate and it has been a key aim of BIBBA to develop a Special Apiary Project at Sandringham that would fit in with HRH the Prince of Wales’s objectives to manage the Estate as a fully organic enterprise farming naturally and sustainably.

One of our Trustees, Brian Holdcroft assessed the Proposal and after discussion by the Committee of Trustees, it was agreed that it would make an excellent new Special Apiary Project and fit within our strategic sustainable bees objective, Approval was given for it to start and for BIBBA to provide funding.
These are Eric’s reflections on the first year of the Project:

Eric Marshall writes:

Little did I think when I dropped an e-mail to Brian Holdcroft what the consequence would be. I was simply interested in finding one or two local beekeepers who were interested in raising local Amm queens. The reply informed me about BIBBA’s plan to start rearing Amm queens on the Sandringham Estate and since I only lived a couple of miles away would I be interested in getting   a project off the ground!

The initial aim was to get a couple of sites identified and some colonies on site. Cooperation from the Farm Manager allowed two sites to be identified in November 2020, although for several reasons we have only used one this season. Being on my own I moved two single brood box colonies on site in February 2021. Late in February, fellow BIBBA Member Kevin Thorn gave a presentation about the Aberton Project to West Norfolk and King’s Lynn Beekeeping Association (WNKLBA). There was considerable interest and arising from that meeting three local beekeepers expressed interest in the Project. One particularly, Chris Barrett,  has been fully committed to helping throughout the Season.

As all will be aware the Spring this year was cold and late. The bees at Sandringham were not particularly strong colonies which would be needed if any queen rearing was to take place. So queens were removed from two of my other colonies to allow them to be united with the two already at Sandringham. As a point of interest, as I was not keen to kill the queens, I put each in a mini-nuc with a cupful of young bees and the feed section full of wet sugar (I didn’t have any fondant to hand). They thrived and were later re-expanded to full-size colonies. The two colonies at Sandringham were transferred to a two tower John Hopkins unit, which I had built for interest over the Winter. This was used because we favoured queen-right queen rearing and wanted to assess this unit as an on-going source of queen cells.

At this point it was realised that we would not only need at least a couple of Amm queens to provide graft larvae, but also colonies in support. This was where another helper from WNKLBA, Barry Thrower, proved most helpful. As swarm co-ordinator for the Association he was willing and able to direct Chris and I to local swarms, which we collected to build up a supply of colonies to back up the queen cell rearing. Bees are essential for making up mating nucs, whether they be mini-nucs only requiring a cup-full of bees or a 2-frame nuc requiring a frame of stores, a frame of bees and largely sealed brood and three frames of empty comb for the queen to lay up once mated.

Daughter queen from the project

Our Amm queens did not arrive until the end of June. A painful lesson was inflicted on us when one of the queens was killed when introduced to a supposedly queenless nuc – we are more careful now to ensure that they are queenless before introducing a mated queen! Another problem beset us, which no doubt all queen rearers experience is that of poor mating, so that a queen becomes a drone layer – this happened with our replacement Amm queen! Before the supplier is blamed we need to remember that the weather in May was not conducive to good queen mating. We have operated on the basis of a regular weekly visit for grafting and other related operations, although occasional short visits have been made by some of us individually to check the status of hives or graft acceptance.

Problems that have arisen have been:

  • a relatively poor level of graft acceptance,
  • loss of queens in sealed cells in the finishing colony, and
  • some loss of virgin queens from mini-nucs used for mating.
john Harding System
The John Harding system

Our original unit for graft starting was a John Harding (JH) arrangement. Some problems arose here   because at different times the queens in each tower were superseded, resulting in some reduction in colony strengths and apparently less inclination for the bees to raise queens. We now believe that the queen excluders between the two towers were defective and that queens could pass through them. They were zinc excluders and are being replaced with wire excluders that are more rigid and less easily deformed. We ran another hive using the Ben Harden method, which like the JH unit seeks to raise queen cells  under the supersedure impulse. This did somewhat better than the JH unit for a while.

We also split a colony to provide a queenless queen cell starter unit; this worked well initially but like the other two units failed to start a single graft cell when we introduced grafts on 16th August. It is not clear why this should have been so, but the bees were clearly beginning to prepare for Winter – drone numbers were very low and a lot of propolis used to seal the boxes together. Temperatures did not exceed 20C in the last 10 days of the month so although the bees were working there was no significant honey flow.

mini nuc
One of our mini nucs

The second problem was that on two successive grafts the queen cells in the finishing colony failed  to hatch – two that did died before we could move them to a mating nuc. We believe that this resulted because there was little or no brood with young bees attending in the box above the queen excluder where the developing sealed queen cells were being held.

Three more enthusiastic helpers have joined Chris and me, which will ease the workload, give opportunity for us to learn together and to work independently on different tasks to stream-line the queen rearing process.

This year has been challenging but worthwhile and we feel more confident about the next season. Without doubt simply going through a regular routine of grafting, moving cells to finishing colonies, making up mating nucs, introducing virgin queens for mating, moving the mated queens on to bigger nucleus colonies has developed our skills and confidence. We think that we have learnt a lot about bees and about queen rearing that should equip us for progress next season.

One thing is very clear. These projects work well when those involved commit to regular involvement. The benefits of working together are immense, both in terms of physical help, and also in terms of ideas and observations when handling the bees and the unexpected situations that can arise.

mating frame
a comb from the doubled up Abelo mating nuc

We are also experimenting with overwintering a colony in a two compartment Abelo mating nuc (12 frames). If this is successful it provides a mated laying queen in the Spring to head a colony that needs a replacement queen; and can then be split into 4 mating nucs to take newly produced virgin queens for mating.

It may not look like a resounding success but we have three mated Amm daughter queens to overwinter. We also have about 10 colonies to support the queen rearing activity. We have learnt a  lot and feel more confident for next season.
We have enjoyed working together.

If you are interested in the Sandringham Project contact Eric Marshall

BIBBA President, Roger Patterson, reports on the 2021 National Honey Show in England held 21st to 23rd September

The National Honey Show Committee took the bold step to hold a face-to face Show this year. Initially, I was unsure about whether this was a good decision. However, it all went rather well, so congratulations to them for being positive. I have little involvement in the Show, other than organising the main and beginners lecture programmes, something I have done since 2017.

The main Programme was a hybrid of virtual and in-person presentations, with eight of the thirteen lectures presented virtually. I think this worked well, despite the fact it had not been attempted before. All the feedback I saw and heard about the Show was very positive and supportive. Several BIBBA Members attended the Show, many of them listening to lectures, at least four of them speaking. It is interesting that four speakers, three of them scientists, advocated using locally adapted bees and adopting sustainable beekeeping. This is exactly what BIBBA has been saying for well over 50 years, although the terms “locally adapted” and “sustainable” are  modern terms.

I obviously did not have much time to see the rest of the Show, so others can give a better overall view than I can. I did notice a couple of things on a stand that caught my eye. I use mostly touchwood as smoker fuel, which I collect in a big dog food sack when I take my dogs Nell and Rosie for a walk. On a stand there was a 0.5kg bag of touchwood with a few additions, including birch bark and horseradish for £5.99, so £11.98 a kg! I have never found a need for horseradish, whatever that is supposed to do, though mine might contain birch bark anyway. I wonder who buys such smoker fuel. It’s probably cheaper to have a dog and collect it yourself. There were several rolls of plastic dots for queen marking, numbered 1-1,000 in 5 international queen marking colours, which was £275. How many of these are likely to be sold? Perhaps someone is thinking of setting up a queen rearing business.

Several of us met up during the evening for a meal and chat. There was the usual banter between beekeepers, much of which seemed to be at my expense, but I don’t mind as beekeeping is fun.