Native 'British Bees' could hold key to honeybee survival
The native black honeybee, with its better ability to cope with the British weather, could help reverse the dramatic decline in honeybee numbers in the UK.
The population of the honeybee, nature´s most important pollinator, has declined by up to 30 per cent in recent years, but no one knows why.
Pesticides have been implicated by some experts, but others believe the problem is made worse by beekeepers use of a foreign, poorly suited, subspecies of honeybee from Southern and Eastern Europe. Moreover, they believe that a hardy British variety (Apis mellifera mellifera), which is likely only to be found in remote parts of the country, could hold the key to survival of the entire population.
Native black honeybees are considered by some beekeepers to be more aggressive and poorer at producing honey than foreign strains. However, over tens of thousands of years, the native black honeybee has evolved thick black hair and a larger body to help keep it warm in a cooler climate, and a shorter breeding season to reflect the UK summer. With careful selection they are good tempered and good honey producers.
There are populations of the native black bee dotted all around the country.As has now been clearly demonstrated, it would appear that without management (ie. most beekeeping) the native bee would out survive the other colonies eventually and dominate. Colonies would gradually lean towards a more native ecotype behavior and appearance.
But “out survive”, does not mean “get the most honey”. For that reason (money), we see that beekeepers want more prolific bees in their stocks to aim for more honey production.
They are not worried about sustainability. So regardless of the eventual outcome as to what the bee would evolve into, Some beekeepers intervene by keeping his/her bloodline 'pure' via continued import and re-queening, so exacerbating mongrelisation is not an issue for them. ( just for everyone else !)
It could be described as Eugenics v. Working with Nature.
We expect eventually to have honey surplus and generate a living and pay staff to maintain our apiaries' and pack and market our products.
But our needs aren't driven by a need to squeeze every last drop of profit from our bees, at a disregard to what nature and the environment is telling us is the best performing bee, in terms of survival.
We will therefore help to develop a breeding/selection program that would increase the number of native colonies and hopefully help reduce the losses experienced in recent years. The current practices of Bee farmers, on the treadmill of importing and re importing to try and maximise honey yields regardless of bee health and sustainability, is comparable to the types of factory farming that has so beleaguered and tainted the farming industry in recent years. We are keen to promote a more sustainable and 'conservation aware' style of husbandry.