Philip Denwood “Towards a History of the Dark Bee in Britain”

Philip has been keeping bees in the Chiltern area since 1971, and was attracted to BIBBA by seeing the publications on display at the National Honey Show in 1972. He served on the BIBBA Committee for many years. After Beowulf Cooper’s death he collected his published and unpublished writings and from them compiled “The Honeybees of the British Isles”. He edited many issues of The Bee breeder in the 1980s and since 2003 has edited Bee Improvement and Conservation. He is also Secretary of SICAMM, the European dark bee association.

Lecture Title: “Towards a History of the Dark Bee in Britain”

There are two common misconceptions about honey bees and the dark bee Apis mellifera mellifera in particular in the British isles:

1) English Government circles (as distinct from Scottish) follow the belief that the honey bee was introduced to the British Isles by monks in Anglo-Saxon times. It is therefore not regarded as indigenous, and the dark bee is therefore not deemed worthy of legal protection as a subspecies. There is however abundant archaeological evidence of honey bees in Britain dating from as early as the bronze age (4000-3700 BC).

2) Many influential figures in British beekeeping, such as Brother Adam and Dr. Harry Riches, former president of the BBKA, have explicitly stated that the dark bee (along with colonies of other subspecies) was wiped out by the so-called “Isle of Wight Disease” in the early 20th century. Scientific investigation by Bailey and others has debunked the concept of this epidemic. Beowulf Cooper spoke to many beekeepers whose dark bees had survived this episode unscathed, and more recently morphometric and DNA analysis has conformed the existence not only of relatively pure A.m.m. bees but also the widespread existence of A.m.m. genes in the hybrid bee population.