Why bother with the "British bee" ?

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BKF Admin

Queen Bee
Jul 28, 2008
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Hampshire uk
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Why are some groups bothering to try and get as close as they can with breeding programes to re-introducing the "British bee" ?

From reading old books it seems they are aggressive little buggers that are not very good at foraging.

Is that why Brother Adam was trying to breed a super bee "Buckfast" for the uk ?

BIBA claim in their mission statement to be working towards:The restoration, study, selection and improvement of the native and near-native honey bee.

It seems like they are trying to bring back the Dodo just for the sake of it ?
The two words "selection" and "improvement" are what you need to focus on rather than dodos.

The logic is that native species/breeds are better adapted to local conditions due to evolutionary forces over many thousands of years. (notwithstanding climate change and exotic parasites which arrived in the uk because of....... )
Are you feeling ok tonight Admin?

AMM are excellent foragers. My best take was 320 lb off a single Langstroth brood box.

Yes many are stingy but there are some very quiet strains too.

There are a lot surviving in Scotland a matter I have tried to flag up to BIBBA to not much avail.

But with "selection" and "improvement" they will no longer be "Native" will they ?

why not just add to the Buckfast programe that Germany runs ?
Come on lets not look back in history, beekeeping is just starting to pick up like the FTSE 100 and the housing market.

Run with it and see where it takes you:cheers2:
But with "selection" and "improvement" they will no longer be "Native" will they ?

Why ever not?

There are also good native type bees available through the Galtee group in Ireland.

AMM are excellent foragers.
..and hardy through the winter and need less feeding.
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Are Irish bees the same as English bees ?

I think they pretty much share the same DNA but with all the imports in the gene pool it is academic anyway as I doubt if any population has survived in complete isolation.
i must admit i am very indifferant to all of this, i just want to keep bee's and enjoy my hobbie,
BUT i am a little concerned about the whole loss of bee genetics and i think we are going down a very slipper slow deleting the old strains so maybe we should have a look at the way we exterminate any thing less than the perfect race ????
where have i heard that before and did it not work for them either!
We are not losing genetics we are gaining it,loads of it every year,thats good,as the government says we live in a global society,well so do our bee;s.
Does BIBBA actually do any bee breeding? Their website seems to be woefully inadaquate and suggests two groups only of organisation in Ireland and in York. Is this the total extent of their attempts to selectively breed better bees?


PS Does the Galtee group still 'export' queens to mainland UK? I'm sure I contacted them about a year ago and they said they no longer sent bees out of Ireland.
I wasn't going to touch this subject for several reasons, amongst which are:- the danger that it could develop into a battle on this forum and the workload at the moment - however, it is Easter here and I only have some inseminations to do today, before we down tools for the next three days.
As a registered EU bee breeder and someone who actually makes a living from the breeding and exportation of selected queen bees to the UK and other EU countries, I naturally watch very closely any issues that could have an effect on my profession.
One such item has recently come to light. On the SICAMM website under the Aviemore section is a statement that the 30% losses sustained in the UK this last winter are due to poorly adapted stock headed by imported queens. I am really surprised by such a dogmatic and wide ranging statement , when we know from feedback from our customers that this is incorrect to say the least. I would like to know where SICAMM got this idea from and on what facts and statistics this is based. Furthermore when one looks at the list of people involved with this project, it is even more surprising that some well known scientists are involved and that they would allow their names to be associated with unsubstantiated statements such as this, when the real reason for the 30% losses are probably poor beekeeping and ineffective varroa treatments.
Actually the format follows that of some other AMM groups, where it is common to see incorrect or misleading claims made both about imported queens and the qualities of AMM.
Sure, some really good strains of AMM exist and the material from this subspecies was used twice in the Buckfast breeding programs by Brother Adam. He admired greatly that vigour that French AMM brought into his lines.
If these AMM groups got down to some serious selecting and breeding work, I am sure that they could breed a very good bee, instead they seem to be content with blaming everything on imported queens, which in my opinion contribute desirable, for the beekeeper, genes to the UK's bee population.
Bee scientists in the USA have been given special permission to import genetic material from Europe for use in their breeding programs and to try to keep their genetic diversity high. It seems that they recognise the dangers of a limited gene pool.
It looks very much like they are following the footsteps of Brother Adam here, in a seach for the best strains of bee to include them into their own lines.
No natural race has all the characteristics needed by modern beekeepers. All of them have desirable and undesirable traits. The Buckfast program theory was to take the desirable ones and to include them within the main Buckfast strain. We hear all sorts of arguements, including the one that they are hybrids and therefore do not breed true - people that make this sort of remark just show how little they know about bees and in particular Buckfast bees. If you mate Buckfast to Buckfast you are of course going to get Buckfast!- correct?
Have a good weekend.
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Thanks for your post Norton, you have touched on a couple of the points I was trying to make, the main one being that if you want to move forward with a good British bee then surely you have to bring something extra into the gene pool like a good Buckfast, I can only see the breeding of a British bee with a few of the bad traits ironed out as one step forward and two steps back.

I just wondered if the whole "British" thing is getting in the way of real progress.

Am I wrong in thinking that any bee worth bothering with would need at least a little Buckfast/Carni in the gene pool?

Reading my opening post again this morning I can see that it could be read as if I was trying to poo poo the whole project and cause ridicle hence Poly hives reply asking if I was "feeling ok" I was just interested if members had any feedback after I was reading a couple of 70 year old pre IOW disease books that did not have many good things to say about our native stock.

Norton would it be fare to say that not only have you had skill and knowledge on your side in your own breeding programe but also you have had a little luck ? it seems you are so far ahead that it should of taken 4 or 5 lifetimes to achive what you have ?
Did you use another beekeepers breeding notes as some point ?
If you mate Buckfast to Buckfast you are of course going to get Buckfast!- correct?

Indeed, but if you want to rear your own queens in the UK that is easier said than done as there are so many different strains of bee.

How do you control the drones your queens mate with? Is it all Buckfast on Cyprus or do you use AI?
Then as now admin there were vested interests in the attitudes expressed in print.

There is a great deal of good in the good AMM but to be honest I think it unlikely that many on here have any if much experience of it. I have seen no signs of it since I arrived and no one has been able to offer me any breeding material to work from.

I know that in Scotland there are substantial, (or certainly were as I measured them) populations, some of which had a discoidal index clean off the Ruttner scale by two whole points.

BIBBA to be honest flounders around with good intentions but seems to make little if any progress.

I was very impressed with the German bees especially with their temperament when I saw them in Marburg. However they have been line breeding for many years, some 80 odd and so have made substantial progress.

We have islands galore which could be utilised for isolated breeding. Why don't we?

Because we are utterly disorganised and cannot agree on a direction any more than cats can be herded. I cannot see any hope for real progress at all to be honest.

I do sometimes wonder why I bother at all.

The idea of having a bee perfectly adapted to the environment is very attractive, but have you looked at what BIBBA are doing?

They measure different parts of the bee in order to move towards the ideal "bee ratios". Theses are based on measurements of the bee.

Where is the evidence that being the perfect British bee shape means that the bees indeed have old British bee DNA? Where is the evidence that this perfect shape is positively correlated with traits you might want, like productiveness or non swarminess? I don't think there is any.

Because it looks like a British bee, doesn't mean it is.
I think you misunderstand the measurements.

They typify the native bee. From the measurements it is quite possible to identify the race of bee involved.

Pure AMM is actually one hell of a bee.

From the south of England though as I already said it is highly unlikely most on this forum have met one.

At one time I ran 80 boxes of them.

Hi P and K

There are beekeepers in England and Wales selecting Amm and happy with their stock - temper is one of the criteria used. The bigger one I'm thinking about (in numbers of colonies - his personal girth is nothing special!) is in Warwickshire and keeps over a hundred colonies. Maybe one day he'll take to selling nucs. Plenty N of the border too. I'm not wanting to be provocative, but the pro-import attitude on this forum just isn't typical of the established beekeepers I've met.

K - you are right that the wing measurements are just some odd sort of proxy for genetic purity, but it seems to be the case that bee stocks are not highly mixed and that purer and near-pure stocks are around. It seems to be the case that if you select for Cubital Index and Discoidal Shift in dark bees then they also have the long hairs on the band on the last abdominal segment and they do make white cappings due to the airspace and they really do forage in cooler conditions and have bees that live longer and so can be surprisingly productive when the colony might look a bit light on bees compared to some continental races that just breed bees.

P - Were you involved with the ScotBee project? A Scottish beekeeper has been asked for the SICAMM conference to summarise the data collected by the Stoakleys. Some of us might try to top up that study with a little bit of extra data as there are plenty of apparently Amm stock still around.

Me? I like the idea that there are still Amm around, eking (sorry!) out an existence here and there in old trees, barns and big houses - and in beekeeper's apiaries. Yes, of course, there could be much more active and organised breeding to make the stock a better one for beekeeping, but the wilder forms are just part of our heritage and ought to have a place in the countryside. I do have some Buckfast types in my apiary too, and I have to say that the purest Amm colony there has some failings so I don't think that I'll be breeding from that one.

best wishes

but the pro-import attitude on this forum just isn't typical of the established beekeepers I've met.

Do you think that Gavin ?
I would like to think we have many members in both camps.

That is just how rumours spread,you post that we are pro-imports and the next thing is chins wagging saying we are the pro-import forum,even though its just not true.

Maybe it would be a good idea to put "In my opinion" after some of your statements.

You must stop trying to pigeonhole the membership if they have different ideas from yourself.

the forum and its membership is liquid not a solid mass like the BBKA forum.

Personaly I dont have any imported queens in my stocks but have said in the past that if I lost all my stocks and imports was the only way for me to carry on then I would buy in,I just hope I never have to.
Gavin, I think your views are yours and yours alone!

My view on queens is the same as admins, which I also belive is the vast majority of forum members.

Maybe you are mixing up your forums?