The Honeybees of the British Isles

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