The Coronavirus (COVID-19) – message from Anne Rowberry, BBKA Chair

Dear Member

The impact of the Coronavirus could not have been foreseen but the BBKA is working hard to support members. We regret that all the BBKA training courses at Stoneleigh have been cancelled, this includes the Healthy Hive training, General Husbandry and Advanced husbandry training. The Exam Board have cancelled the Module Exams, the Assessor Training and will be publishing information on the Healthy Hive and Basic Exams.

We are suggesting that Beginners courses and other Branch or Association organised training courses are postponed. It is important to keep the health of members at the front of our minds. It may be possible to deliver some aspects of these courses online. I would welcome suggestions as to the best way this could be achieved ; possibly some Associations have information that they would be prepared to share. We can post some ideas on our website so please share any that you think may help.

I am sure younger members of groups will support older members or those confined through association with family etc who have the virus by offering to check hives in out apiaries, making sure they are upright, have food and the bees are flying could be very helpful. Please follow the Government guidelines, we are asked to avoid social contact and unnecessary travel. This will mean considering carefully the swarm collection service and applying appropriate safeguards.

I have contacted Defra for advice on the position of beekeepers visiting their bees if the country moves into a more intensive ‘lock down’. At the moment bees will be considered as livestock and can be tended accordingly but we are following Government advice and need to address possible future directions. I have also been in contact with Alpha and the All Party Parliamentary Group and I am writing to the Minister of Environment asking about the position of beekeepers visiting bees I have also suggested that should there be a sugar shortage beekeepers have an allowance ( as I believe they had in the war). This may seem extreme but we need to be thinking now, just in case.

There are actions that the beekeeper can take to give their bees the best chance of survival and the most important is to feed them. Ensure they have plenty of food for any inclement weather, we can have snow in May and cold wet weather at any time may mean they starve. If you are concerned about visiting your bees put fondant above your supers, the bees will use it if they need it. If you do not have fondant then use syrup even if you have one or two supers on. They may move it to the supers which would mean you can’t sell it as honey but you will still have your bees and also food for the Autumn/Winter. We do not know how long this severe situation will last.

We will endeavour to give more information through our website and BBKA social media. Beebase will also be posting information.

I hope this situation passes quickly and is not as severe as is now being portrayed.

Anne Rowberry
BBKA Chair
anne.rowberrry@bbka.org.uk

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2020 CBKA AGM cancelled

In the light of the latest advice from the Government, the decision has been made to cancel the CBKA AGM on the 28th March until further notice.

The CBKA Officers listed below are willing to stand in their current positions for another year or until the current situation is resolved, so the day to day running of the CBKA and any Council business can continue as necessary.

President        – Mary Trace

Chairman         – Henry Kendall

Vice Chair       – Rosemarie Lane

Secretary        – Mary Hardman

Treasurer        – Vanessa Tyler

Editor           – Geoff Hardman

Publicity        – Anne Ramsden

ADM representative – Mark Hoult

Eric James has asked me to pass this on to you:

“I will be starting my inspection work from April. If anyone is at all concerned/have any questions they can phone or email me (with pictures) and I will discuss their concerns and/or visit them. I would rather speak to them and put their mind at rest than have them worrying. My Contact details are below – Eric James”

email eric.james@apha.gov.uk
phone 07979 119369

The Bee Disease Day which was to be held on the 27th June has also been cancelled.

We will keep you informed regarding events planned for later in the year through our magazine, Gwenyn Kernow.

Mary Hardman
Honorary Secretary CBKA
17 March 2020

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BBKA 2020 Spring Convention cancelled

It is with great regret that we have to advise that the BBKA 2020 Spring Convention – scheduled to take place at Harper Adams University 3-5 April – has been cancelled. The Spring Convention Committee and the BBKA Executive Committee reviewed the situation over the weekend and took the decision to cancel. Given the age of many attendees is over 60, the aim is to minimise the risk of COVID19 among participants, traders, staff of BBKA and staff and students of Harper Adams.

A full refund will be made for all bookings made via the BBKA.

Leigh Sidaway

General Manager

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Honey Streets documentary

The CBKA has been contacted by a film maker running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for making a documentary on beekeeping in Malta:

“My name is Mitoshka Alkova and I am a currently making a documentary ‘Honey Streets’ with the Arts University Bournemouth focusing on Malta and its endemic bee sub-species. The documentary is exploring the threat of species loss on the island of Malta due to the rise of urbanisation and its effect on their small beekeeping community.  

You may be wondering why we are making this film in Malta and contacting you, but this is because we want to focus on a beekeeping community in a place where it is less preserved, such as Malta. Also, islands are small ecosystems where the effects of change are seen far more quickly, what is happening there right now is going to happen everywhere in the future. Malta is amongst the largest air polluters in Europe, and the rise of urbanisation and tourism in recent years has left the island stripped of agricultural land, a vital habitat for the local sub-species of Maltese bee. We intend to go to Malta and document the rapid species loss on the island, what the contributing factors leading to this are, and why there seems to be a lack of preservation action amongst the Maltese community. With the loss of land also comes the loss of Maltese identity and their connection to nature, which is why we are focusing on the local people who are trying to make a change.

We have launched a crowdfunder campaign to raise the funds necessary to fly out to Malta and make this documentary. We see that your work in Bee conservation is also related to our topic and we hope that you can support us with a small donation in helping create this film and make future projects possible. Even a donation of £5 will go a long way, and with your help we should be able to reach our target goal and do our bit in helping the bees.

We have a list of rewards that you can receive in thanks for your donations, these include locally sourced products from Malta, zero waste and bee related products, and promotional material from the film. 

I have linked our social media below if you are interested to see what we are getting up to.”

Instagram: honeystreetsfilm/

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Neonicotinoid pesticides and bees

Dr Ben Woodcock, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH),was the second speaker on ‘Neonicotinoid pesticides and bees at our annual Cornwall Beekeepers Association/West Cornwall Beekeepers Association ‘Bit of a Do’ conference this September.

Ben is an Ecological Entomologist in the Community Ecology Group at CEH. He began his talk with a bit of background on how bees are doing in the UK, and why neonics may have contributed to the decline of some species. At the moment honey bees can only deliver about 34% of pollination demand in the UK, so farmers do need wild solitary and bumble bees for pollination too. There are a few species which have done really well under modern agriculture – for example, the Ashy mining bee. But there are plenty of others doing really badly.

The issue with neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) is that they stay inside the pollen and nectar of treated plants over a long period of time (but at a low concentration). Typically test studies into the toxicity of neonics are just short-term studies carried out over about ten days, whereas in real life neonics affect honey bee colonies over periods of months.

Ben mainly discussed two studies he’s worked on which investigated the effect of neonics on bees. The first was:

Impacts of neonicotinoid use on long-term population changes in wild bees in England (Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12459.)

Ben and his fellow researchers divided 62 species of wild bees into two groups:

  • 34 known to forage on oilseed rape (OSR)
  • 28 not known to forage on OSR.

The study found that wild bee species which forage on OSR were 3x more negatively affected by neonics than non-foragers. Ben stressed that neonics are just one factor affecting bees. However, the research indicates that they add detrimental extra pressure on wild bee species.

Bumble on blackberry bramble

The second study Ben mentioned was one he worked on, a big pan-European study across three countries, the UK, Hungary and Germany:

Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees (Science 30 Jun 2017: Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1393-1395)

He acknowledged that the funding for this was controversial, as the pesticide giants Bayer and Syngenta contributed £3m towards it. To ensure that the research remained impartial, the results were peer-reviewed and all emails associated with the research were recorded.

In the study 36 farms across the three countries were each allocated to a treatment: no neonics (control), Modesto (Clothianidin) or Cruiser (Thiamethoxam) – Modesto and Cruiser are big neonic products. There was an average of 60 hectares of sown OSR surrounding the farms. Six honey bee hives, twelve buff-tailed bumble colonies and a number of red-mason bee nests were put at each site. The study looked at the resulting overwintering success, colony strength and forager mortality of the bees.

With the honey bee hives, the honey bees exposed to Clothianidin in Hungary and the UK suffered higher mortality over the following winter. The neonics appeared to have less of an effect on the German honey bees. Ben said this may be because the bees relied more on OSR in the UK and Hungary, plus the OSR happened to flower later at the German sites, so the German bees had a more varied diet. At the beginning of the study the German honey bee bee hives were also less diseased, with lower varroa levels. Whereas the UK hives sourced for the study happened to be quite small and diseased – hives in a poor environment with a lower variety of forage crops are more vulnerable to disease to begin with.

For the wild mason and bumble bees, the higher the concentration of neonics found in their nests, the more their reproductive potential (measured in new queen or egg cell numbers) declined.

Ben then went on to talk about neonic residues in honey, which he studied in Woodcock et al (2018)  ‘Neonicotinoid residues in UK honey despite European Union moratorium‘. Neonic residues were identified in the honey samples, even for honey harvested after the moratorium in 2014. However, the concentrations were typically low and the likelihood of honey containing neonicotinoid residues was higher before the moratorium than after it. There’s a National Honey Monitoring Scheme run by CEH which UK beekeepers can get involved with – donate honey and they do analysis on it to identify the mix of pollens collected by the bees. The samples are also being archived for research in the future. If you’re into Twitter you can follow the scheme at @CEH Honey.

Following the neonics ban, farmers haven’t all switched to organic methods and stopped treating their oil seed rape. Instead, they’re using pyrethroid insecticides more – but some of the main species of aphids and beetles that feed on OSR have developed pyrethroid resistance. As a result, Ben suggested that OSR may stop being an economically viable crop in some parts of the UK. Unfortunately there is no obvious big alternative crop which is bee friendly. Soya is likely to expand in the UK, but it doesn’t require insect pollination.

Emily Scott, CBKA member

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CBKA ‘Bit of a Do’ 2018 – Skep beekeeping

The final talk of our annual joint Cornwall Beekeepers Association & West Cornwall Beekeepers Association Bit of a Do day this September was Chris Park on skep beekeeping.

Chris keeps bees on organic farmland around the Oxfordshire / Wiltshire border and the Upper Thames valley. After researching and experimenting with varying styles of skep beekeeping, Chris teaches and lectures on skep making, beekeeping and beekeeping heritage / history around the UK. He says that the practice of skep-beekeeping is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be educational, rewarding and bee centred, in his experience creating healthy and happy stock.

Chris comes across as quite a romantic character, into folklore and going back to old ways of doing things. He told us that before Britain was inhabited it was called the ‘sea-girt green space’, or ‘Clas Myrddin‘. And then after it was inhabited it was called the ‘Honey island’, or ‘Y Vel Ynys’. Chris has written online about what that name means to him: ‘The Honey Isle by Chris Park‘.

The history of skeps – ‘skep’ means basket and is an old type of woven beehive which is rarely used nowadays apart from for catching swarms. They were made from many materials in the past, with wicker and straw being popular options. Skeps need to be placed under a shelter to stop them getting wet and rotting. Rich men used ‘bee boles’, alcoves in a wall. Poor men used wooden shelters. To try and make them more weatherproof, skeps were dressed with cows dung and hog saliva!

Bee boles at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

Bee boles at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

He made some observations about the benefits of skeps to his bees:

  • The comb is renewed every 2-3 years when it collapses or the bees die out/move on, so the bees are on fresh, chemical free comb
  • There is less manipulation and hive inspections involved, so less stress for the bees
  • The bees possibly seem a bit calmer in skeps – a visiting bee inspector remarked that they were the calmest bees he’d ever seen
  • Skeps have fewer winter losses, he finds

And also about the disadvantages:

  • Time spent (my notes didn’t cover time spent on doing what – maybe on making the skeps?)
  • Difficult to inspect brood comb
  • You lose any swarms
  • More etiquette involved in where you site skeps, as you can’t predict when they’ll swarm

There are some practical things which can be done to improve on the basic dome shaped traditional design. Putting cross sticks inside supports the comb, otherwise it can fall out when you look inside the skep and then put it down again. Chris learnt this the hard way the first time he put a skep down and then heard a thump as the comb landed down too. You can use an open mesh floor or tray underneath for ventilation and catching varroa. You can also make a multi-layered brood skep with a removable super skep on top, to make harvesting honey less intrusive.

Not many beekeepers use skeps other than for swarm collecting nowadays, but there are a few people out there doing skep beekeeping still. The Dartford association have bee boles in their apiary walls. (While writing this post I discovered this 2013 article: ‘Dartford beekeeper recounts his war ordeal‘, which has a picture of William Mundy, the Chair of Dartford beekeepers, with the bee boles and skeps. He was held as a prisoner of war during the Japanese occupation of Singapore; after managing to catch a swarm he was able to donate honey to the prison hospital so that it could be used to treat wounds and burns).

If you want to read more, check out these articles by Chris for the Dave Cushman website:

Bee bole and skep at Heligan gardens, Cornwall

Bee bole and skep at Heligan gardens, Cornwall

Emily Scott, CBKA member

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Creating Asian Hornet Action Teams (AHATs)

Asian hornet sighting in Cornwall

The National Bee Unit confirmed on 4th September that a suspect specimen caught in a beekeeper’s monitoring trap in the Fowey area of South Cornwall is the Asian hornet, Vespa velutina. More information can be found in the Defra press release, Asian hornet identified in Cornwall.

Asian Hornet Action Teams guidance for local groups

Cornwall Beekeepers Association has put together Guidance on creating Asian Hornet Action Teams for the Association’s local beekeeping groups. This includes an ‘Action Flow Chart’ of actions after a suspected sighting by a beekeeper and advice on how to collect a specimen.

Message from Mary Trace, CBKA President:

Dear CBKA members,

This is a message to all beekeepers so if you know any who are not registered please alert them too.  You will know that the Asian Hornet is confirmed in Cornwall.  Be sure that you know what to look for and spread the word.

Observe, not just in your own apiaries but also where any pollinating insects are gathering eg ivy flowering.  If you can, download the posters from the National Bee Unit and distribute – garden centres, farmers etc.  The insect is a real threat to all our pollinators.  Nests need to be found before the young queens disperse.

Mary Trace
07/09/18

Asian hornet/European hornet/Giant woodwasp comparison - BBKA diagram

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‘The Cornish Bee’ – notes from a talk by Rodger Dewhurst, Gwenen Apiaries

By Emily Scott, CBKA member:

On August 12th I went to a ‘Bee Fayre’, which is an annual weekend event held at Enys Gardens in Penryn, Cornwall. It was a haven for bee fans, filled with stalls selling every bee themed product you can think of, from honey ice-cream, breads and cakes to soaps to cosmetics to beekeeping equipment.

There were also short talks… I’m a bit sad I couldn’t go on the Saturday too, as I missed an eclectic set of talks about making Truro bee friendly, the Help for Heroes bee project, Cornish cider, encouraging young people to become bee farmers and beekeeping in the Scottish borders (presumably from a beekeeper on holiday!).

Enys Gardens

Anyway, here’s my notes from Rodger Dewhurst’s talk. Rodger and his wife Carol run Gwenen Apiaries (Gwenen is the Cornish word for honey bee). Rodger started beekeeping all the way back when he was a twelve year old school boy, in the Lizard peninsula. He told us beekeeping was different back then, as there was more unimproved grassland around. Now more honey bees are imported and many more pests and diseases have been introduced.

Rodger’s beekeeping has changed over the years too. Nowadays he aims to breed Cornish dark bees, Apis Mellifera Mellifera. He has also mainly stopped using smoke and gloves.

He looks for a variety of characteristics in the colonies he breeds from – hygienic cleaning and grooming behaviours, including biting him! – which he takes as a sign that they will bite varroa too. Also good temper, good honey production and flying characteristics – ‘maritime bees’ that will fly in wet weather.

Another anti-varroa trait he looks for is what he calls the ‘geriatric shuffle/shiver dance’ – a motion in which the bees agitate their abdomen to dislodge varroa mites. On the monitoring boards under the hives he looks for dented varroa mite shells, a sign that the mites have dropped through after being bitten at by the bees.

Rodger’s breeding plan is to:

  • Identify best stocks
  • Build these up to strength, with plenty of healthy nurse bees
  • Get them to produce healthy drones (he sometimes treats for varroa so that the drones aren’t carrying viruses)
  • Grafts into pre-prepared cups smeared with royal jelly – about a 90% success rate
  • He squishes any that show signs of varroa poo in the cups
  • He puts the cells in ‘apidea’, special little hives for queen-rearing, containing a mugful of nurse bees which happily rear the queens. These go to mating apiaries in a few different Cornish locations.
  • Once the queens are mated, he will sometimes put multiple caged queens on top of a colony to see which virgin most of the bees prefer to cluster round. He makes a note of those as ‘Alpha’ queens to breed from.

Endearingly, apparently the best drones have “big hairy bums”, because the native Apis Mellifera Mellifera drones are larger. They also fly later in the year than other imported sub-species of Apis Mellifera.

Celebrity beekeeper John Chapple

The day finished with a Bumblebee Safari led by staff from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. It had been sunny up till the end of the day when the Safari started, at which point the Cornish mizzle began coming down.

That didn’t put the hardy bumblebees off though, and we found plenty of them enjoying a large lavender patch. It was good to see small children getting to stroke a male bumblebee and overcome their previous fears.

Have you been to a talk or event recently which you’d like to write about for the website? If so get in touch, we’d love to feature more posts by members. 

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