40% WINTER LOSSES!

A couple of days ago I passed through the village of Evershot so I parked and walked round the Church.  Bees were flying as usual from the gargoyle at the SE corner.

Yesterday I spent about 2 minutes gazing at a crack in the tower of Maiden Newton Church, nearly a furlong from this keyboard but no bees were to be seen, although there were a few flying a couple of months ago.

I walked up to Cattistock, a little over a mile away, and found bees flying well from under a gutter on the north side.  They’ve been there continuously for some years, occasionally using the wrong exit and getting stuck inside the Church trying to get through a sunny window.

I returned via Chilfrome where there have been bees in the Church roof for over a decade but none were flying yesterday although I saw some there only a few weeks ago.

In the afternoon I drove via Hooke, about 5 miles west of here, and visited the Church. A warden appeared and showed me the bees flying from the NE corner where, again, they’ve been for years.  Occasionally a few get inside and worry the wimps but nobody has been stung.

I wonder why bees seem generally to prefer the northern side of Churches?

Anyway, Church bee losses in this area of West Dorset have been 40%.  What’s it like where YOU are?

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ANOTHER DARG DAY

Yesterday I drove nearly 50 miles through light snow flurries to Uplowman Village Hall, near Tiverton for a meeting of the Devon Apicultural Research Group (DARG).  There were 17 of us there: a record I think!  The room was a bit small for that many but at least being huddled up kept us warm as we drank coffee and ate our picnic lunch and nattered.

The main subject of the day was microscopy and I brought a couple of my microscopes along, but, as others had already set theirs up and had lots of slides to show, I left them tucked away.  I’d like to do more microscopy and develop skills but life’s too busy!

Glyn Davies gave us a resume of the Drone Laying Queen project which has no clear and positive result linking disrupted spermathecae with deformed wing virus.  We shall have to think on.

We heard that Jeremy Burbidge of Northern Bee Books had contacted us suggesting that some of the DARG pamphlets, which he sells, could be updated so that’s another thing to do.

A book on the various types of hive is being produced and I was asked to write a chapter on Top Bar Hives, which I’ll get on with as soon as I’ve posted this blog unless the snow stops and I can get outdoors!  I went to the pub last night for a Guinness (it being St Patrick’s Day) and took a notebook with me to mind-map the relevant What, Why, Who, When, Where and How points.

The pollen project is continuing and Richard Ball gave us an update.  There were posters and slides.  In brief, we’re encouraged to collect pollen loads from a hive for 24 hours in the middle of each month, select 20 grammes, sort them into colours, check the colours with an ID card, using a microscope to verify if desired, and report the findings.

We then got off our backsides and mingled, taking turns to peer through the microscopes at slides of spermathecae and of pollen.  It was a good day of time well spent.  Things are looking up for DARG numerically as, being mostly oldies, we tend to lose as many members as we gain.  More people seem to be coming from adjoining counties so maybe we should change our name to SWARG!

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IS ACTIVE SWARM CONTROL STILL THE BEST POLICY?

Last weekend I curtailed a holiday in Norfolk a day early in order to attend a Cambridge BKA one day seminar on the subject heading this post.  The room at Chesterton Community College, Cambridge, was well packed with about 100 people. The speakers were Ged Marshall, Professor Stephen Martin, Dr David Aston and Jane Ridler.

Ged is a professional Bee Farmer as well as an entertaining speaker. His talk was on Swarm Control Without 9 Day Checks. Stephen Martin is in the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford and spoke on “Will letting colonies swarm help to solve the Varroa problem and increase genetic diversity?” David Aston is a biologist who has been keeping bees since 1982. His subject was “Swarming – time for a re-think?” Jane Ridler (with her husband, Richard) is involved with Bees Abroad, helping beekeepers in Africa and she spoke to us about “Beekeeping practices in Africa.”

Ged has 200 hives and 660 mini nuclei dedicated to queen rearing plus about 1700 honey production colonies which produce about 10 tons of honey a year. Despite rearing all those queens he still imports some! He moves his bees around, especially to borage.  Lots of his honey is sold to beekeepers! He goes for swarm prevention rather than reaction. Swarmers produce swarms so he rears queens from non-swarmers and re-queens swarms in August/September. He always re-queens collected swarms.

Stephen Martin pointed out that all species of honeybee except our Apis mellifera have been inflicted with a mite eg tropilaelaps, and has learned to live with them.  Ours will have to evolve to do so too, although the Bond (live and let die) method isn’t suitable for most beekeepers.  He referred to Tom Seeley’s varroa tolerant bees in the Ithaca Forest which have evolved to keep the mite population down through reduced reproduction and predicts that in 5 – 10 years time we won’t be treating for varroa any more.

David Aston referred to swarming as a phenomenon rather than a problem or an issue. He, too, had been reading Tom Seeley’s books, especially Following the Wild Bees (of which I was sent a free copy by the publisher for review) and I recognised some of the diagrams on the powerpoint screen.

Jane Ridler’s talk was not related to swarming but she gave an interesting talk about the work of Bees Abroad in Africa.  I noted that nowadays, like Bees for Development, they advocate the use of top bar hives.  This is because the stacking box type of hive that they used to prefer is too difficult and expensive to build locally and such hives of that type that have been given to the locals are deemed far too good and precious to be used for bees as they are the best and poshest piece of furniture the family possess.

After the lectures the speakers clustered on stage for a general discussion/question time which continued until the close at 4pm.

The seminar lasted a long day from 9.15 (I was there at 8 to help set up) coffee through a massive lunch and browse of the trade stands, more food and drink and eventual doggy bags. I still haven’t finished mine, a week later!

It was a good day out: much better than paddling at Cromer!

 

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POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

That seemed to become the theme of the South West Beekeepers’ Forum when we met near Taunton on Tuesday.  Members came from a wide area stretching from West Cornwall to Hampshire and Avon to Jersey.  There were 23 of us in total of whom nearly half had attended the BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting that had been so controversial.

Nobody had a good word to say about the way the meeting was run and they were straying from the constitution.  The view was that the BBKA is currently not fit for purpose!

What’s to be done about it?  The view was that the members and delegates should be running the BBKA rather than the charity trustees and, in order to encourage and enable this, we will produce a guidance pack (1 side of A4) for delegates outlining their duties and powers. This will enable them to understand this before they attend.  Our Secretary will be gathering ideas and suggestions and mould them into a document that we can agree upon.

The main subject of the meeting was the Asian Hornet.  We had several experienced people present: Bob Hogge from Jersey, Martyn Hocking from Woollacombe and Simon Jones the Regional Bee Inspector (who had cycled to the meeting).

You’ve all read about the hornets and possibly seen on U Tube Martyn talking to 200 beekeepers in Devon a few weeks ago.  What it comes down to is that every local BKA needs to set up an Asian Hornet Action Team of a few trained members who can support people who think they’ve seen an Asian Hornet and help to find evidence of whether they were correct.  The NBU just doesn’t have enough staff to investigate sightings unless they’ve been confirmed. They had 4,500 reports last year, nearly all of which were incorrect.

So it’s up to YOU and your fellow local beekeepers to get organised!  Advice on ways and means will be forthcoming.

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DARG HORNET DAY

Last Sunday I went to  a DARG meeting at Uplowman near Tiverton.  The subject was the Asian Hornet and it seems to be popular as there were 14 adults there, plus 3 kids and a dog.

Glyn Davies was taking the lead.  While he thinks it very important that monitoring should be done all over the country, starting NOW, he is concerned that beneficial native insects might be killed unnecessarily if we all use traps.  Instead, he recommends that people put a small dish of bait on a window cill, bird table, plant stand etc where it can easily be observed quite often.  There’s no need for it to be close to an apiary as it isn’t until later in the season that they prey on bees.

The bait at this time of year should be something sweet as they will be looking for carbohydrates.  I don’t know how to avoid bees being attracted to the bait as well as hornets but possibly using alcohol might skew the temptation hornet way.

Later in the season, and we don’t yet know when, the bait should be switched to protein, eg fish fingers or meat paste.

If/when a hornet appears it must first be positively identified by swatting, netting and/or photography and the identity confirmed by the local Bee Inspector or the National Bee Unit.  They will then take over, tracking the hornets to locate and destroy the nest, hopefully before they have reared new queens.

Today, as I am on holiday in Devon, I visited the Eden Project.  I was disappointed (shocked!) at the increase in entry fees, it now being £27 for adults with no longer a discount for oldies.  At least the ticket lasts for a year so I shall have to go there several times to get value for money.

I passed their three poly hives on the way in. Despite the temperature being about 50 degrees Fahrenheit I saw no bees at all flying from two of the hives and only a couple from the third.  I did later, however, see a couple of bees working a camellia, a flower said to be favoured by the hornets.  The bees were superficially of native appearance, which is good as Eden is taking part in the B4 project to encourage native bees in the area.  They had a meeting of BIBBA there yesterday which I was unable to attend as it conflicted with the holiday arrangements. No doubt there will be a report in due course.

During my visit I conducted a scientific comparison of the Devonian and the Cornish ways of consuming scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream and concluded that I prefer the Devon method, ie with the jam on top of the cream.

On the way out via the shop, my attention was drawn to the jars of honey they have for sale.  Besides the usual clear or soft set (sold in kilner jars) they had jars of nuts (almonds or walnuts) and of mixed seeds filled up with honey.  I don’t often eat honey but might be tempted by doing this next time I rob my bees!

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ASIAN HORNET ACTION!

Everybody should have a hornet trap in their garden to monitor.  I have one that I made.  It isn’t too difficult but it’s a bit fiddly and I was lucky to have a little spare metal mesh.  Although the plans are available on-line I very much doubt whether more than a few dozen are in use throughout the country and most of them will be associated with DARG members and their friends.  There is one that can be purchased from the bee appliance suppliers but, at about a fiver, it’s a lot of money for something that probably cost a few pence in materials and assembly abroad.

Here’s my idea:  the Government in the shape of NNSS (Non Native Species Secretariat) and the NBU put in a bulk order direct to the manufacturers for about 25,000.  They should get a really good price for an order like that!

Then get the BBKA, via their branches, to deliver them to all their members free of charge, together with instructions as to use and bait.

The cost will be a mere hiccup in the NBU budget and, by getting all the traps distributed around the country, will greatly improve the chances of finding and eliminating the Asian hornets in their early stages, before they get established.  This investment, if made NOW could save a great deal of money and trouble later.

If you like this idea, please pass it around.

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ASIAN HORNETS ARE HERE!

Well, they’ve not been found so far this year as the queens are still dormant, tucked away in a plant pot in the nearby garden centre, or in a caravan that was brought back from France last Autumn.  In about a month they’ll come out of hibernation and start to build their nests, which nobody will notice until too late unless WE get organised.

A couple of days ago, foolishly as I was short of sleep because of the lurgy, I drove 80 miles to Harberton in darkest Devon to a gathering of 200 beekeepers who were there to hear of the experience of Martyn Hocking who, last Autumn, had spotted an Asian hornet.

We learnt that the National Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS), the responsible body, refused to take any action until Martyn had provided positive evidence of the accuracy of his observation. Martyn, who was then recovering from an operation, got no help from his local BKA; the weather wasn’t helpful and every time he tried to take a photo the hornet moved out of focus.  Consequently it was quite a while before he was able to provide the required evidence.

When convinced, the NNSS passed the buck rapidly to the National Bee Unit (NBU) who quickly gathered the local Bee Inspectors to track down the colony and kill it, fortunately before they had sent out a new crop of queens.  It is understandable that the NBU doesn’t react instantly to every report as there were 2600 in 2016 and 4500 in 2017!

Reacting to this, the local BKA has set up a system (yet to be tested) for dealing efficiently and effectively with hornets that appear in their patch this year; but what about the rest of the country?

Despite knowledge of the Devon hornet incursion, there was no mention of the invasive Asian hornet at the recent BBKA Annual Delegates’ Meeting.  There has been some recent internal strife and they appear to be concentrating their attention on their own naval rather on the needs of their members and their bees!

There are about 24,000 members of the BBKA, all of whom are potential spotters, plotters and swatters of the Asian hornet but, to be effective, we need training, teaming and coordinating and we need it QUICKLY!

Probably the local branches will need to be involved, but they’re all different, some being better organised and with more members than others and Murphy’s Law will ensure that a hornet queen will be lurking then working in the area of the least organised local BKA!

Therefore the BBKA, who have the resources and information, should rapidly take the lead in ensuring that the whole country has teams of trained hornet hunters ready to be vigilant and act in their own areas and to help their neighbours. Scotland and Wales should, of course, share the work and information.

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