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Brosville 

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Group contributes £10,000 towards research into hardy native bee variety mooted as potential saviour to population crisis

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/may/18/black-bee-co-op-population

The native black honeybee, found only in a few remote parts of the country, could help reverse the dramatic decline in honeybees in Britain, say experts.

Around a third of honeybee hives were wiped out across the UK last year. Although no one knows why honeybees are dying in such huge numbers, pesticides, poor weather, parasites, disease and starvation have all been implicated. Some experts believe the problem is made worse by beekeepers' use of an Italian honeybee that is ill-suited to the British weather.

The Co-operative Group has today launched a fund to map locations of the rare, hardy British black variety and to develop a breeding programme to increase their numbers.

Paul Monaghan, the head of social goals at the Co-op, said: "The hardy native black honeybee has had a bad press over the years but it may hold the key to reversing the decline in the UK's honeybee population."

There are isolated pockets of black British bees dotted around the country and the Co-op's £10,000 donation to the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders' Association (Bibba) will help it to identify and map them.

Dinah Sweet, the chairman of Bibba, said: "This is a much-needed and long overdue research study which could unlock the answer to the potentially catastrophic decline in the UK honeybee population. However, we have to identify where they can be found so that we can use them to expand the number of native black honeybee colonies and make them more available to beekeepers."

Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, says: "All things being equal it makes sense to work with what's native. However I have seen some very aggressive and restless black bees, so they should be bred to incorporate their better elements."

In Britain, the native honeybee was practically wiped out a century ago by what is known as the Isle of Wight disease, named after the place it was first detected. Beekeepers replaced their empty hives with the Italian honeybees, a subspecies of the honeybees found in southern Europe and the Balkans.

These are more docile and such prolific honey-makers that they are now used by beekeepers worldwide. It is easier for beekeepers in Britain to have Italian honeybees exported from New Zealand than it is to buy native black bees.

But Ratnieks points out that our native bees are less likely to starve in difficult times. "They eke out their winter food stores for longer than their Italian counterparts and need less food in the spring because they [breed] less quickly," he says.

He warns, however, that black bees are not a panacea. Last August, for the first time in 12 years, the rain prevented his black bees in Derbyshire from collecting any nectar from heather. As a result they didn't have enough food to last them through the winter and the weaker colonies died.

Willie Robson, who owns Chain Bridge Honey Farm in Berwick-upon-Tweed, is probably the nation's largest black bee apiarist with 1,800 hives across Northumberland and the Scottish borders. While he says his bees only made half the usual crop of honey last year, he only lost about a fifth of his bees – far fewer than the majority of beekeepers with Italian stock. "Our bees are pretty hard and have total resistance to most diseases," he says"
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VEG 

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They are mentioning the black bee but

"Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, says: "All things being equal it makes sense to work with what's native. However I have seen some very aggressive and restless black bees, so they should be bred to incorporate their better elements."

Why try to alter their breeding they are then no longer native but will be in effect genetically modified.
:confused:
 

Brosville 

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I seem to remember reading something along the lines of "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"
 

Brosville 

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If you're used to using breeding as a "solution" you're liable to keep on doing it, and perhaps seeing it as a universal panacea..........
 

VEG 

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I should imagine that the black bee will probably by now have some italian/other genes in them by now.
 

DulwichGnome 

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"The full saying goes "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" (exact wording varies among sources). Some Web sites call it Baruch's Law. It describes one kind of narrowness of thought. People who are excessively fond of a particular analytical scheme or problem-solving method--people who have only one tool--will construe any bit of reality as just the kind of thing to which their pet interpretation or solution applies."
From,
http://www.phrases.org.uk/index.html
 

jon 

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Why try to alter their breeding they are then no longer native but will be in effect genetically modified.
:confused:

This is nothing to do with genetically modified. It is selection. They are quite distinct concepts.
It is the same principle as a farmer breeding calves from his highest yielding cattle.

Natural selection takes place all the time. As conditions change, individuals within a population with a selective advantage are more likely to reproduce and spread their genes within the general population.
 
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DulwichGnome 

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"The bees that gather the Isle of Colonsay Wildflower Honey are a strain of the native Black Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera). This strain derives from the bees that recolonised Britain and northern Europe after the ice age some 10,000 years ago. The species of bee makes no difference to the honey we get, but the Black Bee is much hardier than the Yellow or Italian Bee ( Apis mellifera ligustica) common in much of England and southern Europe. This hardiness allows the bees to gather nectar on cool sunless days, and forage in a wind that would keep most colonies indoors. The same harsh climate that has selected the Highland cattle and Blackface sheep has created the Black Bee, that winters well on little honey and cautiously expands it's numbers in the spring, lest a cold, wet summer lie in wait.

Colonsay and Oronsay sustain around 50 colonies of bees. Yields vary with summers but are below the U.K. average of 30lb per colony. There are few beekeepers on the West coast of Scotland, the climate being too wet for commercial beekeeping. Colonsay lies to the west of the rain shadow and it's high sunshine hours make beekeeping viable, if marginal.

The bees on Colonsay are isolated from mainland stocks and are largely disease free. No chemicals are used in the hives to control diseases."

Well this is one place they could start.
 

Hivemaker. 

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It is not genetically modified,but it is not natural selection either,it is human selection.
 

jon 

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It is not genetically modified,but it is not natural selection either,it is human selection.
Yes. I had corrected my typo before you posted. Cheers.
 
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jon 

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I should imagine that the black bee will probably by now have some italian/other genes in them by now.

I keep native type bees but there are certainly a few stray genes in there as I see the odd bee with yellow bands. I have a neighbour who keeps some Buckfast so that probably explains it.
 

Brosville 

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I think we may be getting a touch away from the main thrust of the thread - what I'm taking from this is that the Co-op are streets ahead of the "powers that be" in this country - I'm also beginning to suspect that Prof Ratnieks rather likes the limelight for it's own sake - he seems to be popping up everywhere at the moment (even some humorous radio programme the other day)
 

VEG 

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It is not genetically modified,but it is not natural selection either,it is human selection.
Hivemaker you put into words what i was thinking (but in a better way) about the human input.
We as humans alter animals/insects for our own goal. This is not natural selection.
 
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jon 

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This is not natural selection.
There is nothing wrong with it either.
It has been a basic principal of seed selection and stock improvement since agriculture first appeared.
There will always be natural differences within a population and the farmer or beekeeper selects the traits which suit his needs, ie, high yield, gentleness, resistance to disease etc.
I don't support GM crops as I believe there is a viable alternative amongst existing varieties including heritage varieties of crop species.
 

admin 

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I keep native type bees but there are certainly a few stray genes in there as I see the odd bee with yellow bands. I have a neighbour who keeps some Buckfast so that probably explains it.
Sorry to go off topic Brosville,jon do you think the yellow bee's are from your stock or could it be drifting ?
 

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I think we may be getting a touch away from the main thrust of the thread
Thats because most on here are Beekeepers first and enviromental guardians second.

Given the choice between politics and beekeeping most will talk bee's.
 

Brosville 

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Well, perhaps I've got it wrong, but I though the main thrust was that the Coop had given funds to research black bees, which to me is pretty specifically about bees, and little to do with being environmental guardians.......(although obviously intrinsically inextricably linked - "canaries in the coalmine")
The point I will attempt to make with more clarity is that it seems more than a touch ironic that a commercial company (The Co-op) has singlehandedly done more towards getting to the root of problems from which bees are suffering in a few short months than the self-appointed bodies who should be doing it.....
DEFRA and the BBKA.......
As for threads wandering off-topic - got no problem with that at all - some of the best ones do!
 

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Thats fine Brosville if you are happy for threads to wonder,you will have to pull them back on topic at times otherwise its only a few posts between the co-op offering funding then going off on a tangent to native queens then onto talking about races of bee;s.

Trying to keep some threads on topic is a bit like trying to teach mathmatics to a classroom of kids when the suns shining outside and the football is calling..(And I am one of the worst offenders for it!).
 

Brosville 

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I think there's a good point that's been raised (and may merit it's own thread) is the question of whether it is wise to try to impose our will on how they breed (by "natural" and not "GM" methods)....
In other words, if you are working with "pure" black bees, should you "leave them to it", or go in for "arranged marriages"
 

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