The Honeybees of the British Isles – Appendix Two

The Honeybees of the British Isles – Appendix Two

A Note on Terence Theaker

Terence F. Theaker, Terry to his friends, died suddenly on May 10th 1972, shortly after moving ten colonies of bees to a crop of turnipseed for pollination, while in his 59th year. He was not known to a wide circle of beekeepers, despite having been County Secretary of Lincolnshire Beekeepers’ Association for eleven years. He rarely wrote to beekeeping magazines. Yet his remarkable powers of observation of honeybee colonies, and recognition of the importance to honey production and ease of management of many significant and inheritable behaviour traits found in different stocks, singled him out as a leader of beekeeping thought. Of his warm, if lonely, character we will say little here, except our belief that it is by his deep love of nature, of his birds and his garden, of music and poetry, that he will be remembered in his home village of Leadenham, nestling amidst trees below the escarpment of the Lincolnshire limestone.

His grandmother had kept skeps of the local Vale of Belvoir black bee from at least the 1860s, when it was the custom to feed them on “ale and brown sugar”. They were taken over by his father and kept through the “Isle of Wight disease” era without losing a single stock. In 1936 the local gamekeeper acquired some Italian bees from his brother in Essex, which started to cross with the natives to give swarmy and bad-tempered hybrids. This upset the incumbent of the village church, Canon Shorton from Cork, Ireland, who with the local schoolmaster had already become interested in breeding for non-swarming. Terry’s response was to confine his virgin queens and drones in mating apiaries until evening, and then release them in the hope of achieving within-strain mating. In combination with heavy culling, this technique was successful in maintaining a long-lived, superseding bee. Three queens bred on embarkation leave in 1941 were still alive when he was invalided out of the RAF in 1945, and from them he built up his apiaries again.

Because of ill-health, which dogged most of his life, he found himself unable to lift heavy weights. He therefore devoted himself to maintaining his one-broodbox strain of bee, but it had to work hard and get him as much honey as did other people’s larger broodboxes or multiple broodbox strains. In this he was entirely successful. He found longevity and supersedure to be better servants than prolificacy in his relatively bleak area, a requirement which is becoming even more pronounced in present-day weed-free, tree-free, hedge-free arable East Midland counties.

After the war he tried several other types of bee in comparison with the local one. A “brown” strain from Ayrshire which had also come unscathed