Black Bee Reserve

Black Bee Reserve

England’s First Black Bee Reserve at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park

On a glorious sunny day in one of our most beautiful country parks in the grounds of Mount Edgcumbe House, Cornwall, a crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of England’s first Black Bee Reserve.
The spacious public viewing room allows close observation of the bees in the apiary, while educating the visitor about our native Northern European Bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. Referred to as the Black Bee, it has been found to be thriving in Mount Edgcumbe Park and the surrounding Rame Peninsular, as well as in other parts of Cornwall. 
Dr Mairi Knight of Plymouth University spoke of current research by her Department of Molecular Sciences into local adaptation in UK populations of the black honey bee. The academic research draws on the bees from Mount Edgcumbe as well as from other sites including The Eden Project and Paignton Zoo.  Lord Teverson (currently serving on the EU Energy and Environment Committee) told us of the importance of conservation of specific honey bee species, and the hope that work with the native black bee will increase the survival potential of pollinators for the future.Nick Bentham-Green, Chairman of BIBBA, said that the Mount Edgcumbe Black Bee Reserve is an important step on the journey to gain some protection for the native honey bee.
Maggie Freegard – Secretary West Cornwall Beekeepers Association

Opening Ceremony England’s First Black Bee Reserve at Mount Edgcumbe Country Park, 25th May

The tape was cut by Sir Tim Smit KBE, famous for creating the Eden Project and restoring the Lost Garden of Heligan.

Mark Edwards is a BIBBA member, and the bee keeping tutor for Plymouth University, trying to sustain a native honey bee population there:

On a sunny Spring day, the forgotten corner of Cornwall set the stage for a landmark event in black bee conservation and awareness. Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, opened the first black bee reserve in the mainland UK at Mount Edgcumbe; just across the river Tamar which separates Devon from Cornwall.

It’s been brought about through collaboration between the Community Interest Company ‘B4’ (Bring Back Black Bees), for which Tim is a patron, £10,000 funding from Tesco and a new PhD at Plymouth University looking at adaptations of the Cornish black bee to varroa.

How will this be imposed? Mount Edgcumbe has the institutional jurisdiction to be able to dictate how its 800 acre estate is used.  Coupled up with support from HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchy of Cornwall, native bees are in a strong position of support in the South West.

Native bees are now in several prominent visitor attractions in Devon and Cornwall.  B4 has overseen their introduction at the Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Paignton zoo and now the stunning Mount Edgcumbe Country gardens – described by Sir Tim as one of the best gardens in Europe.

I was in a privileged position to cover the latest introduction.   I work for BBC Radio Devon and was commissioned to produce a package for the breakfast programme.  Of course I jumped at the chance to publicise the native bee to the 4th largest county in England!

The apiary looks picturesque as the hives are situated in an old Victorian garden. The public have access to an undercover viewing area, guarded with netting for safe viewing of the hives.  The entrance to the viewing area is a giant WBC construct and once inside there are several educational boards to read about the native honey bee and the work going on to sustain and improve it.

The day went well in all aspects. A cursory morning inspection was performed to abate any potential swarming disasters mid-opening!  I would say a crowd of near 100 people attended and who knows of the foot fall in years to come of both this site and the other native bee apiaries at visitor attractions.  Other BIBBA attendees included President Jo Widdicombe and Chairman and B4 Director Nick Bentham-Green.

As well as acknowledging B4 for their instrumental  organising of the whole affair, from securing the funding to garnering such effective support and good PR, (for without that, this event would not have happened), it would equally be remiss of me not to also mention Jo’s role. Having worked with Jo for some 8 years, I can testify that he has worked tirelessly to select, conserve and above all improve native bees in South East Cornwall and the Rame Peninsula in particular.  Many of us in Cornwall have used Jo’s apiaries to achieve successful native matings, one of which was until recently at Mount Edgcumbe.  The fact that the area is dominated by black bees is in no small part down to him and his co-operation with other bee keepers (at sure cost to himself!) That example has meant that bee keepers in this part of Cornwall have worked together and been very proactive in selecting and improving their native or near native bees. We have two active breeding groups, BIPCo and CBIBBG, in Cornwall and initiatives such as the  Mount Edgcumbe black bee reserve opening, may inspire countless others in the generations of bee keepers here and still yet to come.

I attach my audio package which was played out on BBC Radio Devon, and to continue the good news story of spreading successful native bee PR …it also got taken by BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today:
Radio Interview with Tim Smit

Look out for pictures in the next BIM!

Mark Edwards

The collaboration between beekeepers and Plymouth University has been facilitated by B4 for which Tim Smit is a patron, with money generously donated by NERC for a PhD, Tesco’s Bags of Help initiative for the Mount Edgcumbe Black Bee Reserve, and the Heritage Lottery Fund for preliminary genetic research looking at the degree of hybridisation of honey bees in Cornwall.