A little black bee experiment

A special guest blog post by Richard Bambrey

What’s That Box?

It’s not a funny new kind of bird box! It is in fact a bait box for honeybees that has been put up at Denmark Farm.

bait box for british black bee

Why?

For many years it has been assumed that the British black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera or AMM) was extinct, wiped out by the Isle of Wight Disease in the early 1900s When I say assumed I mean claimed by ‘experts’, repeated by other experts and believed by the rest of us. However it now appears that this may not be the case!

Snelgrove, a famous British beekeeper, writing during and just after the second world war, noted that the bees were tending to revert to the native type once the importation of Italian queens was stopped due to hostilities. This indicates that the genetic material must have been coming from somewhere and that was presumably wild/feral colonies of bees, so they were still around then.

Over the last 150 years or so many different races of honey bees have been imported into the UK, with varying degrees of success. However the attitude now has turned from looking elsewhere in the world for a better bee to the more logical view that the bee which had lived in the UK for thousands of years (probably since the end of the last ice age) would be the best bee for our climate… Well there’s a surprise!

Where?

Yes indeed! Where are they then? Presumably if any AMM colonies have survived the Varoa infestation of the last decade or so they are still living as they always did. In hollow trees, in old roofs. Tending to colonise small cavities, swarm regularly and mate locally*. And hence the box!

In an attempt to discover for myself whether there are any AMM bees still out there I have constructed a number of these boxes or ‘bait hives’. The dimensions and sighting of these hives is based mainly on work done by Prof. Tom Seely and explained in his excellent book “The Honeybee Democracy”.

I have recently been in touch with a PhD student at Bangor University who is studying just this topic, so if I catch any swarms of a native type they will be sampled and become part of a larger study. All very exciting!

*If you would like more info on AMM bees look at https://bibba.com/native-honey-bees/

Richard Bambrey and his daughter Rhian Bambrey, putting up the bee box at Denmark Farm.

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