Scillonian Bee Project


with Nick Bentham Green and Jilly Halliday

For those followers of the BBC 2 programme Rick Stein in Cornwall our former Chairman Nick Bentham Green​ and Isles of Scilly beekeeper Jilly Halliday featured in the recently aired Episode 7 of Series 2.
One of Rick Stein​'s research team contacted ​Jilly and Nick as they wanted to feature beekeeping and taste the local honey. Rick visited the Abbey Gardens, Tresco on the Isles of Scilly and there met Nick and Jilly.

 Nick and Jilly are ​running a 5 year ​Project ​to make beekeeping on the 5 Isles more sustainable by improving the forage on the isklands as well as improving the existing honeybees so that they are better able ​to thrive ​in the unique Scillonian environment. ​Nick last looked at a number of the colonies on the Isles in 2017, and noted that many were struggling and some were very badly tempered.  In ​fact, Nick still remembers to this day, sprinting across a field and taking shelter in a shed, from some very evil bees!  So, during his visit in 2021, he was expecting the worst! However, he could not have been more wrong, the same colony (now daughter or even grand-daughter) was an absolute delight to handle. So, how has this happened?  Well, we think that the bees, and in particular, the drones, are crossing the sea, between the various isles.  It is our intention to prove this with the help of Plymouth University, Exeter University and the local schools.

DNA sampling
DNA sampling

On some of the Islands honey yields have declined and the belief is that is as a consequence of ​the bees not being able to adapt, over a period of time to the unique Scillonian weather, in particular the long dry summers. ​This is more than likely because honeybees have been imported (but luckily from varroa free locations, Colonsay, and the Isle of Man). Another part of the Project will be to take an annual DNA sample from as many colonies as pos)sible so that we can use the results to help the bees flourish, and develop a true, and unique, Scillonian honey bee.  This feature represented an ideal opportunity to explain this work and promote the local Cornish black bee.
The programme is excellent viewing and is available on the BBC iPlayer
(jump to the section on the bees which starts at 17 minutes)

some photos of the project, click an image for captions