I spent most of the day as one of Dorset’s delegates to the SWRJCC: the South West Region Joint Consultative Committee held at the Old Barn Owl at Westport on the Somerset levels. Unusually, we had no current BBKA Executive members present (newly elected Ian Homer was at home with a cold) but there were at least 4 past Presidents present as well as other former Trustees.
The morning business was a presentation by Ben Jones, who works in the lab at the National Bee Unit (NBU) which is part of FERA at York. He is seeking funding to enable him to go for a PhD at Exeter University under the supervision of Giles Budge at York and James Creswell at Exeter. He will still do his current job and receive his salary at York. It seems the extra, £4,000 a year for 3 years, will be for extra lab work. He’ll be the one doing the work and charge his time to the funding.
The FERA has 200 colonies, 100+ staff, including 12 NBU staff, and about 70 bee inspectors, most of whom will be seasonal. It has links with universities, finding that PhD students provide cheap labour!
Ben hopes, through his research, to fill a knowledge gap concerning the immune function of honeybees and how it is affected by nutrition, particularly that provided by pollen and bee bread. Bee bread isn’t just packed pollen but is about 30% honey and has bee secretions and micro-organisms. The pollen itself provides protein and amino acids. Bees in laboratories fed on sugar and pollen live a lot longer than those fed on sugar alone. Some pollens are more digestible than others, for instance dandelion pollen has a particularly thick coat. Ben didn’t mention this but I guess the reason for that is that dandelion pollen isn’t used for pollinating dandelions! They produce fertile seed through an internal process called ‘cell migration’.
Ben hopes, as outputs of his research, to produce: information for beekeepers; knowledge of the nutritional value of different pollen; comparison of apiary locations; new techniques. As he hadn’t mentioned it, I raised the question of propolis as part of the honeybee immune system, bees having a smaller part of their genome devoted to immunity than other insects. Ben regards propolis gathering, together with hygienic behaviour, as ‘social immunity’ and will not be the object of his focus.
In discussion round the table it seems likely that BDI (Bee Diseases Insurance) may well find about half of Ben’s money from their surplus funds. A paper will be prepared to go around the BKAs to see if they, collectively, will find the rest.
Lunchtime, I was approached by the Secretary, Chris Utting, who wants, after a decade in post, to give it up. He tried to persuade me to take on the job, but I have enough on my hands without taking that on as well. Conveniently, the Chairman forgot to raise it under AOB and so did Chris, who was busy taking the Minutes. I think he’s stuck with it.
The food was good, but a long time coming. I do like their chips which are hand sliced from real spuds with flavour and skin. I had fish to go with mine as I don’t eat enough of that, with apple crumble for pudding. It isn’t every month that I eat pudding so I’m feeling well stuffed!
After lunch, there was a post mortem on the recent Annual Delegates’ Meeting. It was felt that the BBKA needs more direction from the membership and that a few personalities are taking over and doing things ‘their way’. It was pointed out that only 2 motions had come from the membership, the remainder being generated by the Executive itself.
Chris Utting told us about the multi-coloured Courses in Cases, the colour scheme following the successive queen marking colours (which you’ll learn about in the first case, the white one). It seems that, with their aid, the novice beekeeper can proceed educationally as far as, but not including, the NDB at a cost of £50 + postage each.
Somebody raised the matter of the recent EU Court judgement in which the Court displayed its complete ignorance of the nature of honey and came up with a stupid judgement which may mean that we will have to have each batch of honey tested at a cost of about £100 to show it is GM free. It was pointed out, however, that BBKA insurance includes product liability, so we needn’t really bother.
Somebody mentioned the rumour that Fumidil B, the antibiotic used against Nosema, will no longer be available and we were told that this is because the makers won’t register it. The registration process is expensive and I don’t suppose there’s enough of a market to make it worth while. I used it once, about 30 years ago, as I was told that it was part of the annual routine. I haven’t done so since and I think I may still have some of the original batch around the place somewhere!