If you are wondering why you have not been receiving NatBIP News over the Winter, don’t worry, you have not missed anything – we have had a break.
Actually, the planning and organisation goes on. The National Bee Improvement Programme is designed to promote the partnership between bees and beekeepers, for the mutual benefit of both. The Programme centres around its participants not its organisers. We really welcome the input of ideas and descriptions of practices that you have found work for you. If it is good for you, it is probably good for others.
The NatBIP GUIDE is available on the BIBBA website, free for all to use. Some parts of the Guide are still not complete and there is always room for beekeepers to submit useful tips, techniques, and ideas. The 2022 NatBIP Record Card is available for download for your use so that you can continuously assess the qualities of your bees, essential for choosing which queens to produce offspring from. Also it can freely be altered to suit your own requirements and allow you to select for the qualities that are important to you.
Some relish the challenge of queen rearing, whilst others find it a bit daunting. Techniques described in the Guide, can be as simple as building a colony up on two brood boxes and then dividing into two, to produce a split, suitable for beekeepers with little experience. Other slightly more demanding techniques of queen rearing are also described. The hardest part of queen rearing can be deciding which method to try.
Working in Groups
Beekeeping is often a solitary occupation but, with bee improvement, small-scale beekeepers stand more chance of making an impact if they can work together. Improvement Groups can be a challenge in themselves, but much pleasure and satisfaction can be gained by sharing efforts and resources. Local Associations often have a group apiary and with members’ bees as well, a large number of bees can be drawn into the mix.
A ban on imports
Many beekeepers have been concerned for some time on the level of imports because of the increased biosecurity risks that importing bees poses. In January the members of BBKA voted by a large majority to support a ban on imports. BIBBA and the NatBIP Programme have tried to deal with the issue of imports of exotic sub-species, and the genetic instability that follows, by encouraging beekeepers to engage in an alternative approach, through the NatBIP Programme. The aim is to improve the quality of the bees around us, rather than continue to introduce new exotic genes into our local populations. This just sets the clocks back every time it happens.
Natural selection is a useful tool in bee improvement, and if beekeepers can combine that with ‘artificial selection’ by the beekeeper, we can start to shape the population for the better. Fewer imports make that process so much easier, as new, often unsuitable, genes are not continually added to the gene pool. The mood in the country against bee imports is probably at its greatest for over 150 years, presenting beekeepers with a unique opportunity to finally achieve some sustainable bee improvement. The beekeeping organisations, apart from BIBBA, have been slow to see the opportunity, that we currently have, and to appreciate that the blueprint is here, in the form of NatBIP.
Commercial and semi-commercial beekeepers
The majority of beekeepers run a handful of colonies but there are also many semi-commercial or commercial beekeepers, and also many who have an eye on moving in this direction. NatBIP offers huge opportunities for these beekeepers if they can get the quality of their stock up through careful selection. The demand for ‘local’ queens, as opposed to imported or the offspring of recently imported stock, is growing all the time, and larger-scale beekeepers, or improvement groups can help to satisfy this demand with compatible queens.
BIBBA encourages beekeepers to monitor the quality of their colonies through record-keeping, and to produce offspring from their best colonies but we also recognise that there will always be a demand for queens and nucs from some beekeepers. If we are to keep the quality of our stock going in the right direction and not, as up to now, contributing to ever more hybridisation, we need a supply of ‘compatible’ queens and nucs. This is a great opportunity for slightly larger scale beekeepers and one that we will be encouraging.
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Which is the best approach, bringing-in good, but compatible, queens, or selecting and improving our local populations?
The situation varies in every area so it is a question that beekeepers must decide for themselves according to the conditions they find themselves in. We should also bear in mind the direction that nature, through natural selection, will take our bees in once we stop bringing exotic sub-species into the area. It is possible to completely select one’s bees from the colonies that exist in the local area.
Some may prefer to buy-in stock and keep selecting from the ones that do best in the area and, in this way, build up a population of ‘locally adapted’ bees. Others will want to work with the best of both worlds, using the best local bees as well as bringing in compatible queens to enhance the strain.
There are many possibilities but the aim, in each case, is to develop a local population that we can sustainably improve over time.
Can we rely on home-reared stock, British or Irish-bred?
With the mood of beekeepers changing towards wanting home-reared stock, as opposed to imported stock, there is already another challenge around the corner. Rearing queens in this country may reduce the biosecurity risks associated with imports but the genetic problem can still go on. Unfortunately ‘home-reared’ or ‘British or Irish bred’ is no guarantee that the genes will from ‘locally adapted’ stock. Often, in fact, the parents could be from recently imported breeder queens which is contrary the advice given by the COLOSS Group.
David and Emma Buckley, the founders of Buckley’s Bees, share the passion and drive to meet NatBIP principles, with David being the longest surviving member of BIBBA with over 55 years of experience and has worked closely with Beowulf Cooper.
Buckley’s Bees are looking for additional part-time beekeepers, throughout the UK, to work with our ever-growing business and enthusiastic team – people who are passionate about these fantastic creatures and the good they do in the world.
In addition to genuinely making a positive environmental impact, we can provide a good additional income stream – doing what you love… and being paid to do it!
Our work focuses on promoting and increasing awareness of the native honeybee, breeding native or as near native as possible and expanding and enhancing habitats – for all pollinating insects.
In order to achieve these objectives, Buckley’s Bees work with corporate clients, placing colonies of native bees (or as near as possible) around the UK on our client’s sites. These colonies are locally sourced and we often work with BIBBA members who breed the bees for us where we are not local enough.
Additionally, with each new site comes a new local employment opportunity and we employ local beekeepers to manage our client’s colonies.
The Buckley’s Bees breeding programme focuses on selectively breeding native honeybees. Traits such as appearance, habit and longevity, with queens frequently achieving productivity for over four years, are amongst our key breeding objectives. Breeder queens are selected only after two productive years of heading a colony in a single national brood chamber. This reduces the need for frequently replacing queens. We assess colonies for docility (often working our bees with no gloves), dark colour, low swarming tendency and frugal wintering habits.
Each of our beekeepers manage different sized apiaries, anything from 2 to 20 hives – something that we can tailor depending on our beekeeper’s availability.