News for Non-Members July 2020

Welcome to BIBBA News for Non-Members – July 2020

It’s been a busy month with the beekeeping amongst the variable weather and I hope many of you have had a go at making new colonies. The picture here is from a delighted host for a couple of my new colonies. It’s also been a busy month for webinars at BIBBA with Roger Patterson finishing a set of six webinars and wanting to do even more!
Karl Colyer



Examples of feedback:
I would recommend these lectures to every beekeeper, because there are gems in there not seen in any book
I hope this exercise will be repeated


The six webinars presented by Roger Patterson in June-July 2020 have so far attracted over 2000 viewings and are now available online for 30 days only from the date of broadcast
pdf copies of the slides are also available to logged in members


More webinars are planned for early autumn.
Send us your suggestions here.
If you didn’t signup for webinar alerts last time, do so here

Do you (or a family member) have skills in either WordPress or QuarkXPress and a little time to spare to help BIBBA?
For more info go to

Beo Cooper’s book:

The Honeybees of the British Isles

by Beowulf A. Cooper

Beowulf Cooper’s pivotal book on the native bee is available in print once again from Amazon

Beowulf Cooper was one of the founding members of what is now the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA). The fundamental drive behind this organisation is that the best honeybee for the British Isles is the native dark bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) and that contrary to popular belief the native bee had not been wiped out by the so called “Isle of Wight disease” in the early twentieth century.

This is one of my favourite beekeeping books, that I probably refer to more than any other. Beowulf Cooper was a Government entomologist who travelled widely in his work. In doing so, he visited many beekeepers, which still provides stories from older beekeepers about his unexpected visits, often rather late at night. Beowulf was very knowledgeable about many things other than beekeeping. If he found you had an interest he shared, he would talk for hours. In talking to beekeepers and from his own experiments and observations, he made many notes for over 40 years.

“The Honeybees of the British Isles” is credited to Beowulf Cooper, but was collated and edited after his death by Philip Denwood from some of the many notes made by Beo. The result is a book that is still relevant to modern beekeepers and is still eagerly sought 35 years after it was first published.

The book concentrates on native bees (Apis mellifera mellifera) and covers their characteristics, supersedure, management, breeding, selection and mating behaviour, including an explanation of apiary vicinity mating and the formation of drone assemblies. There is a list of a few known drone assemblies and it would be interesting to know if they still exist. It is often thought that Beo was only interested in native bees, but he was shrewd enough to realise that in the areas where pure native bees don’t exist, that the local population will revert to “near native” if they weren’t subjected to continued importations.   
This book is a welcome change from the usual beekeeping book and can easily be understood by a beginner. Even as an experienced beekeeper, every time I read it I am inspired.

Roger Patterson

reprint available to buy from Amazon


members have started to advertise their bees for sale on the website:


This month’s main download is the Beowulf Cooper book but we want this section to be a regular article so here’s a succinct booklet by E Bartrum way back from 1897.
It’s called Bees in a Bar-Frame Hive and covers much of the basics for beekeeping even today.

Joseph Tinsley

by Jo Widdicombe

Some of you may be familiar with Joseph Tinley’s book of 1945, Beekeeping Up-to-date.  He was head of beekeeping at the West of Scotland Agricultural College for many years and apparently preceded Andrew Abraham in using Colonsay as a site to breed the native strain of honey bee.

Drones from “Queen Cells”

  by Roger Patterson

Occasionally beekeepers find what appear to be queen cells in supers above the queen excluder. As not many beekeepers inspect their supers, I suspect there are many more than are noticed. I have seen these on many occasions, always small numbers, close together and of similar age.

These articles are available in full in BIBBA Monthly for members

NatBIP Update

The National Bee Improvement Programme

The BIBBA Committee are working on the details of this Programme for a launch in 2021.

We are aiming to keep members up to date with developments through BIBBA Monthly.  Our aim is to get to a point where all beekeepers have heard of the scheme and are aware that participation is appropriate for all who do not wish to use imported, or the offspring of recently imported, bees.

Some may question whether this is true to BIBBA’s aim of promoting the native and near-native honey bee.  We are aiming for participation from as many beekeepers as possible, even in areas that appear to be low on what we may consider native or near-native bees.  Without the constant import of other sub-species, we feel that the bees in this country would naturally tend towards a more native bee, just through the effects of natural selection.  So, whatever the starting point, we would like to get beekeepers working in the same direction and, in the long term, that must be true to our aims.

Please let me know of your views, comments and ideas as the plan unfolds.

Jo Widdicombe            

Selecting our Breeder Queens

Assessment of Colonies

A fundamental part of the National Bee Improvement Programme will be the assessment of our colonies.  A quick and easy system of recording qualities is vital to the selection of our breeder queens.  Selection of these breeders not only allows us to raise the next generation of queens but also plays an important role in producing a large number of ‘good’ drones in an area.  Whatever our newly reared queens mate with, these new queens will produce drones directly related to the breeder queens that they were reared from.  It is therefore important that we make the correct choice of queens to be our ‘breeders’.

In the next article I will discuss the importance of breeding within a strain which allows us to get consistency into our improvement programmes and therefore allows more rapid progress.  This article will be concerned with the qualities that we need to assess, and how we build these into a system of record-keeping.

The more qualities we consider, the more complicated and difficult it becomes to achieve our aims.  For example, if we were only looking at one quality in our bees, it would be relatively straightforward to make progress.  Limiting the number of qualities that we want means compromises may have to be made, especially in the early years of an improvement programme, but more refinement of our stock can be introduced later on, once a few basic qualities have been achieved.

Different beekeepers, or groups of beekeepers, may place different emphasis on achieving certain qualities, and the freedom to do that may be necessary.  Surprisingly, though, there tends to be a lot of agreement on what beekeepers like to see in their bees.  A standard record-card that is suitable for all beekeepers is needed, even if the emphasis on some qualities varies a little between individuals or groups.


Although often ignored in our assessments, the most important quality in our bees is ‘survival’.  Those that do not survive are automatically lost from the selection process and although we do not like to lose bees, the positive result is that the stock we are left with is the hardiest and most resilient.

There are two aspects worth considering regarding this quality:

  1. Over-wintering
    A colony that comes through the winter well and is poised to develop strongly during the spring is deemed to have over-wintered well. We can assess this trait for all surviving colonies at the first spring inspection.
  2. Varroa Treatments
    Another aspect relating to survival is to record what varroa treatments the bees have received, be it artificial or natural chemicals, biotechnical controls or no treatment at all. We need to record treatments received in previous and current seasons.

In the long term we would like to see the development of a resilient population with regard to varroa.  We would like to see a population that can survive well by its own means and not be destroyed or severely weakened by varroa and associated viruses.

A number of beekeepers are already practising treatment-free beekeeping, and varroa tolerant or resistant bees may be closer than we realise.  We want to encourage this trait as it is crucial to attaining a sustainable system of beekeeping.  This is clearly an area where different beekeepers will have different approaches and policy must be left to individual beekeepers, or local groups.  Conditions may vary in different parts of the country which may influence decisions on treatments, but the important thing is that we record what we do.


Beekeeping is much more enjoyable and less-stressful with good-tempered bees, as well as being safer for the general public, an important factor in a crowded landscape.  There are many factors affecting the temper of a colony such as, the weather, the stage in the swarming cycle or the effect of robbing by wasps.  We can build up a good picture of how placid a colony is by assessing the bees each time we carry out an inspection.  Over the season, whilst we expect variations at times, a pattern builds up of what we can expect from a certain colony.

Normally this is an important factor in selecting our breeder queens.  If the mother is docile, the chances are that the offspring will also have that trait.

Swarming propensity

Swarming in colonies is their natural means of reproducing and, in the wild, is essential to survival of the species.  It also carries risks for the colony; too much swarming and the chances of survival for the swarms or the parent colony are reduced.  From the beekeeper’s point of view, swarming means a reduction in honey yield and perhaps more feeding required for swarm or parent colony.

Beekeeping is a partnership and it may be in the interests of the bees and the beekeeper if the swarming propensity is low.  Colonies which are reluctant to make preparations for swarming are generally looked on more favourably than those which swarm very readily.  Also, colonies which tend to produce a new queen by supersedure are regarded as advantageous.

A colony which produces a good crop of honey without attempting to swarm will be marked more highly than one that makes swarming preparations before it produces much of a surplus.

Health and brood pattern

There is no doubt that a colony that produces good blocks of healthy brood will develop more rapidly and produce more honey than one with patchy and perhaps unhealthy brood.  A significant amount of chalk brood, for example, takes its toll on a colony’s development.  The amount of chalk brood in a colony may well be related to the colony’s hygienic behaviour so it pays to breed from queens that have healthy brood.

Honey production

We are all beekeeping in different conditions; some areas are much more productive than others, so to achieve a more representative assessment, the honey production of a colony is compared to the average production for the apiary.  Thus, if a colony produces twice the average amount for the apiary it will score 2.0; if it produces half as much it will score 0.5.

There are numerous factors affecting honey production and we may not even be aware of some of these factors or they may be too difficult to assess.  Honey production gives us a snapshot, or a summary, of how a colony has performed and can be an important factor in selecting our breeder queens.  We need to estimate, or guesstimate, honey yields as the honey is removed from the hive.

Assessment methods, marking systems

Over the years there have been many attempts to produce a system for assessing our colonies.  Different systems use 1-10, 1-5 or 1-4 to mark the qualities.  Systems have been devised where the number of qualities to be assessed are too numerous and too time-consuming to be practical for the average beekeeper.

For many years, I have settled on a 1-5 system but recently I have experimented with an alternative version which I think makes assessment even easier.  It is a system which runs from -2 to +2, so there are still five categories, but it is easier to reach a decision.  For example, when assessing a colony for temper, one can decide whether the colony is good or bad to handle.  If good, one just has to decide if good or very good, +1 or +2; if bad is it bad or very bad, -1 or -2.  There is a useful ‘0’ if it is neither good nor bad.

On the record card this system could have 5 columns for each characteristic and just use a tick-box system for the grades -2 to +2.

© 2020
Roger Patterson


The record card will also have space for ‘comments’ and ‘needs’ so no other card should be necessary.  It is ideal for day to day management as well as providing simple information for the selection of breeder queens.

Jo Widdicombe