NatBIP – May 2020

BIBBA’s Proposal for a
National Bee Improvement Programme

In January BIBBA published a document outlining its proposal for a national bee improvement programme. This document is available to be viewed on the BIBBA website. It was written with a view to informing other beekeeping associations of our plans and inviting them to contribute to the finer details of the programme.

The aims of the programme are twofold; to improve the quality of our own honey bee population and to reduce the number of imported bees into this country. Currently, many beekeepers see the use of imported stock as the only way to get a better-quality bee.

Whilst a temporary improvement in quality may be experienced, the net effect is the continual mixing of the sub-species, resulting in a randomly hybridised population that does not breed true, making selection and improvement difficult. In effect, imports set up a vicious circle where quality cannot be maintained, deterioration sets in, creating further demand for more imports in a vain attempt to improve quality.

BIBBA has always promoted a more sustainable system of bee improvement, one in which the quality of our bees can be steadily improved over time. Unfortunately, the import of other sub-species has a negative effect on our efforts through the constant introduction of genes not tried and tested in our environment. This is irrespective of the biosecurity risks which these imports also pose.

How the Programme would work

Participants in the improvement programme would keep a record of every colony’s performance and characteristics, using a standardized record card. The record of performance for the previous season plus a few checks in the current season, such as how the colony has over-wintered, health of the colony, etc. will allow the choice of the best queens for breeding from, that is the ‘breeder queens’ which will be used to produce the next generation. Beekeepers may work on their own or form local groups to share efforts and achieve greater influence. New queens will be reared from these breeder queens and irrespective of the drones that these queens mate with, the drones produced by these new queens will be ‘good’, as produced from unfertilised eggs and thus be directly related to the original breeder queens.

The aim will be to develop queen mating zones, in which ‘good’ drones produced in the area can dominate and mate with our newly produced queens. Over time the effects of hybridization of our bees can be reduced and we can develop local strains based on the native bee. Why the native bee? The natural advantages it enjoys in our environment make this the easiest strain to refine and maintain. Aren’t there better strains available? The genetic diversity within any strain contain all the qualities we could want. By working within a single strain, one that is favoured by natural selection, we can produce a hardy, docile and productive bee.

Development of the Programme

The details of the Programme are being worked on and will be collated in a guidebook ready to be put into action in 2021. This will be issued with all the information required for supporters to participate in the programme. It will be designed in sections that can be modified, updated and added to in the light of experience gained. It will cover such things as the record card and record-keeping, selecting breeder queens, queen rearing techniques, working in groups/Group Handbook, dominating an area with the selected strain/establishing a strain, selection of local stock/refining the native strain, and availability and distribution of surplus queens from other beekeepers.

In the meantime, the Programme is being piloted at various apiaries around the country to test the principles and practices that will be detailed in the guidebook.


This is an ambitious project for BIBBA and for general beekeeping in this country. We feel it will attract support from a wide range of beekeepers, not just BIBBA members. It is important to view it as a long-term project and to make it flexible so that it can be constantly modified and updated and kept relevant to current situation and events facing beekeepers. It will provide a framework for a better more sustainable future for beekeeping in this country, something never attempted before.