NatBIP News No13

January 2023

Jo Widdicombe

'The following is a draft that will be made into an A5 leaflet for distribution to interested beekeepers at shows that BIBBA attend. This will commence with the Beekeeping show at Telford in February, Welsh BKA's Convention at Builth Wells in March and BBKA's Spring Convention at Harper Adams in April.'

The National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP) is an initiative launched by BIBBA. The aim of the Programme is to sustainably improve and maintain the quality of our honey bees.

Why is it needed? For over 160 years we have been importing bees of non-native sub-species. Whilst genetic diversity is essential in our stock, the import of genes that have evolved in very different conditions to our own is not the answer. Imports pose an ongoing biosecurity threat to our bees, with the risk of importing new pests and diseases, or new variants, into this country.

courtesy the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright

Photo courtesy the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright

The use of imported queens may provide temporary relief to issues of quality in our bees but have not provided stability within the population as a whole. The hybrid vigour produced by crossing different sub-species soon deteriorates into a randomly hybridised population due to the multiple mating of queens with drones from the surrounding area. This is in contrast to other agricultural livestock where matings can be controlled and specific crosses produced at will.

The use of exotic queens does not just affect the colonies that they are introduced to; there is a knock-on effect on the local population. Drones produced by imported queens will mate with new queens in the area, perpetuating our randomly mixed stock. The net result is an unstable genetic mix, often with undesirable qualities. This makes selection and improvement of our bees slow and difficult, as hybrids do not breed true, producing offspring which is very variable in quality.

Building from what we have got.

The use of imported queens of various sub-species has resulted in a difficult starting point for the improvement of our bees but, rather than continue in the same way for years to come, the National Bee Improvement Programme sets out a vision for the future.

The National Bee Improvement Programme (NatBIP) promotes a sustainable system of bee improvement, that develops a locally adapted population that breeds true, whilst maintaining genetic diversity within that population.

Photo courtesy of Richard Senior

NatBIP is a scheme to improve our bees through the refinement of local populations. The use of imported, or the offspring of recently imported stock, should be avoided to prevent further random hybridization of our bees. This will allow the processes of ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ selection to shape the local population to our needs, whilst also maintaining genetic diversity within that population.

Natural selection favours bees with good survival abilities, whilst artificial selection, by the beekeeper, selects those qualities that we want to see in our bees. Bees that perform well under local conditions are favoured, building up a population of locally adapted bees.

Due to the difficult starting position in many areas which have very mixed stock, queens can be brought in from other beekeepers who are working to the same principles. This can be done to speed up the process of refinement of our stock, but the emphasis should remain, ultimately, on developing locally adapted bees. The use of exotic breeds should be avoided to prevent further hybridization of the sub-species. This includes exotic breeds reared in this country.

How to find out more?

More information on NatBIP, and how it works, in practice, can be found on the BIBBA website. (bibba.com)

The NatBIP Guide is also available on this site, for advice on all aspects of bee improvement including queen-rearing techniques, record-keeping, a record card template, nuc making, and so on.

How can I participate?

NatBIP is designed to appeal to all beekeepers and is a vision for a sustainable future for beekeeping. It will allow us to improve and maintain the quality of our bees in a sustainable way.

Photo courtesy of Richard Senior

NatBIP wants the support of as many beekeepers as possible. If you are a beekeeper, support the programme, whether you can be actively involved, or you just sympathize with the principles.

Even those who feel unable to offer practical support can sign up as a supporter and receive regular updates on the Programme. Passive supporters may benefit, in the future, as at some point they may require a queen and a ‘locally adapted’ queen offers so much more. For one thing, it will contribute to the local population rather than having a negative knock-on effect that exotic queens have.

Sign up as a Supporter of NatBIP to transform our beekeeping!

NatBIP aims to transform our approach to beekeeping and offer a sustainable system of bee improvement for the twenty-first century. It is a system that has produced good results in different locations. We can all benefit from the use of locally adapted bees of a native or near-native strain.

Join BIBBA now or register your support for The National Bee Improvement Programme!

Whether you are able to become actively involved or just wish to support the principles of the scheme, signing up to support NatBIP will help it get firmly established. By showing support for the principles of the Programme, you can help to change beekeeping for the better and lay the foundations for a sustainable system of modern beekeeping.

There are two options for supporting the Programme:

  1. Join BIBBA for £20 per year (Direct Debit)
  2. Sign up, on the BIBBA website, as a NatBIP supporter (free)

Details of both methods can be found at bibba.com and you will be kept informed, by email, of NatBIP progress and developments.

Please get in touch with Jo Widdicombe if you interested in this aspect of NatBIP.

By encouraging more beekeepers to support NatBIP, achieving good results will become easier and faster, and we can build a more long-term and sustainable approach to our beekeeping.