BIBBA are regularly asked very similar questions via email or when attending shows and events. These FAQs are intended to answer some of them in the hope they will help beekeepers understand BIBBA and native and near native bees.
This is a local name for the honey bee sub-species Apis mellifera mellifera (Amm) that is native to the British Isles.
There are about 28 different sub-species of the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, originally distributed through Europe, the Near East and Africa. In the British Isles and Northern Europe, from France to the Urals, the native sub-species is commonly known as the Dark European honey bee or Apis mellifera mellifera (The first two latin names denote the genus and the species, and the third name denotes the sub-species).
Common names for the Dark European Bee include ‘Old English’, ’British Black Bee’, ‘Irish Black Bee’ and ‘Brown Bee’.
Bees of other sub-species have been imported into Britain and Ireland for over 150 years resulting in much introgression of genetic material into the native stock. As a result ‘pure’ stocks of bees of the native sub-species can be difficult to find. ‘Near-native’ refers to bees which have a native appearance as well as characteristics similar to native bees although genetically they may contain some DNA from other sub-species.
Conditions can vary considerably even over a relatively short distance. An example is that one area may have oil seed rape as the main nectar source, yet only a few miles away it might be heather. The former needs a bee that builds up much earlier in the season than the latter. Adaptation takes a little time to achieve. Local bees are also used to the types and strains of diseases prevalent in your location and will not import anything new. Bees imported from a distant location might also be genetically incompatible with your local stocks and this could result in unwanted behaviour in future generations.
for details of recent research see https://bibba.com/local-bees-better/
BIBBA does not support the importation of honey bees as not only does it pose a health risk to our bees but importation also works against the development of local adaptation. The mixing of different sub-species makes selection and improvement of our bees more difficult due to hybridisation and it negates the effects of ‘natural selection’ which produces a hardier bee.
BIBBA as an organisation is not in a position to supply members with appropriate breeding material. BIBBA encourages members to work with other local beekeepers to select and improve the quality of bees in their area by using the best local material available.
It is not advisable to source queens from a different environment from the one they have been acclimatised to. Many experienced beekeepers believe this is why colonies headed by imported queens often do not perform well in our conditions. A simple example is that bees in a heather district need to build up slower than those in an OSR area. They may adapt quite quickly, but there is often initial disappointment.
A little patience is advised if native or near native bees are sourced from outside your own area, but even then there are some parts where conditions are vastly different even only 10-15 miles away.
We do, however, hope that breeding groups will cooperate together and swap genetic material where approppriate. Some breeding groups provide queens to neighbouring beekeepers in order to improve the background population in the areas where they work and often further afield.
We need all the members we can to work together to achieve our aims of improving the quality of bees in this country and in reducing the damaging levels of imports of queens of foreign sub-species.
BIBBA encourages members to set up local queen rearing groups. click to see active groups here
If you are already breeding or rearing queens with the aim of selecting for native traits but have not registered as a group we would be pleased if you would consider registering by contacting either the groups coordinator or the web master.
If there is no group local to you, click to let us know you want to be part of a group
We now plan to issue “BIBBA Monthly” by email and once a year will issue a collated print version of the best articles.
If you cannot find the answer to your question above, please complete this form