The BeeHolder, April 2010

One of the joys of committee meetings over the last few years has been watching treasurer Roy Norris explode in a near-foaming fury every time bad-beekeeping or Devon are mentioned. Devon, he would claim, is the source of most of the bee troubles in the UK. I have asked him many times if he could put his passion into an article but as a senior officer of BDI (Bee Disease Insurance) he could not compromise his position by singling out one county for his wrath. “ ....and I tell you the Bayvarol strips weren’t just left in for one year, they were added to until they were creeping out the hive entrance... and this was a professional beekeeper!”  As you read Roy’s article (Beekeeping in Devon) try to imagine the original spoken comments complete with the teeth grinding and foam

Civilisation progressed by the exchange of ideas and the electronic age just makes that exchange faster but Arthur Finlay’s article about New Zealand Beekeeping and Roy’s article reminds us that chance personal contacts are still essential for learning. Just as the computer has not reduced our use of paper as was predicted, it has not lead to the social isolation that was also predicted. Incidentally, some years ago the committee voted that all committee meetings are open to all members. Do come along, they can be great fun and perhaps you will be amused enough to stand for committee next February.

We start 2010 full of hope after the previous disastrous year but we should be aware that some of 2009’s problems will come to haunt us in 2010. For example; mating of queens was so bad after last July that the 2009 queen will be especially weak in 2010. It is going to be harder to increase stock and honey production will also be less than we would normally expect from any given weather condition. It will take a few years before we can recover from 2009.

Is our weather particularly bad for bees?

Terry Cook (see here) would say “Yes” and that our native bee is ill adapted to providing sufficient production to be viable. He assumes of course that the commercial beekeeper and the honey bee are in a natural symbiotic relationship. Whether we like it or not Apis Mellifera is a result of thousands of years of selection by man (see here) we cannot just leave it alone and expect the traits we want to magically appear or reappear. Brother Adam always argued that you cannot get traits out of the bee that were never ever there in the first place. Would he have had sympathy with the search for Hive hygene genes or would he approve of investing in the scientific possibility of splicing a set of genes from Apis cerana into Apis Melifera so that the latter could reproduce with the grooming behaviour of Apis cerana (Arthur Finlay’s New Zealand report)? Arthur would argue that the crisis in agriculture caused by the rapid drop in Honey Bee numbers does not allow us the luxury of being finicky about the concept of GM (genetic modification). His view is backed by Dr Simon Potts at Reading university’s School of Agriculture. Dr Potts has found there has been a 54 per cent drop in the UK’s managed honeybee population over the last 20 years. This compared to an average drop of 20 per cent across Europe. The study ‘Decline of managed honeybees and beekeepers in Europe’ shows that the UK bee population is declining at over twice the rate of the other 17 European countries in the survey.

On a happier note a team from Louisiana (see here) claims to have found a Hive Hygiene Gene. We await with interest confirmation of this from other research establishments.

Tony Shaw, March 2010