A guide for Beekeepers
There are normally three levels of beekeeping associations (BKAs) in a pyramid formation:-
In addition there are several organisations that are usually of a specific nature e.g. bee improvement. These may be local or national.
The local BKA (in my case Wisborough Green) is often a division or branch of a county (West Sussex) BKA, in a number of different formats. The county BKA is then a member of the national BKA (British Beekeepers Ass'n - BBKA). There are several different ways of achieving this and in my case Wisborough Green is a BKA in its own right, with West Sussex BKA being made up of 3 Divisions. All divisions are independent, with their own constitution and accounts. In some cases the county is the main organisation and the branch/division is a part of them, with central constitution and accounts. In some instances the county BKA has no divisions or branches. In a small number of cases neither the local or county BKA are allied to the respective national BKA.
Many BKAs are well over 100 years old and in that time there have often been disputes, some of which have raged on well after the passing of all those originally involved. This is often the reason why BKAs are organised the way they are, and are not all the same. Beekeeping seems to have attracted more than its fair share of controversy and characters who have started and/or perpetuated it. There are a lot of politics in beekeeping - often caused by a small number of people who think they are more important than bees or beekeeping. I think this is a pity as it often denies the members of opportunities others enjoy.
The reason I mention this is because most beekeepers belong to the local BKA and this is where the vast majority of teaching and helping is usually done. In my experience the better BKAs are relatively free of politics and often do an excellent job. It's the poorer ones with few facilities that seem to have the problems. This of course has an effect on the quality of teaching - if there is any.
Many BKAs are totally self funded and administered by volunteers, consequently they vary considerably. As with any other amateur organisation they have different resources, whether it is people, finance or assets. Some officials work incredibly hard on behalf of their members, often unnoticed. I travel widely as a beekeeping lecturer and demonstrator and I can quickly tell the BKAs who are obviously well organised - the members are knowledgeable, responsive and ask good questions. They are very chatty, welcoming and the meetings are vibrant. They are usually a pleasure to visit and I really don't want to leave!
Although there is no compulsion to join, I would strongly advise all beekeepers to belong to a BKA. When I started beekeeping in 1963 things were very much easier and you could keep bees successfully without help, but with all the problems bees and beekeepers currently face, there are huge benefits in having the support of an organised group.
I suggest to all beginners, even those who approach us at Wisborough Green, to contact and visit all those BKAs within a distance you are prepared to travel to on a regular basis in bad weather. Have a chat with them, look at their facilities, their future programme and see if you are made welcome. Ask questions, don't be shy. It shouldn't be difficult to see if they suit you or not.
Have they got a website that gives you the information you need? If they haven't got one, or you find it difficult to contact someone, then they can't be too serious about welcoming new beekeepers. Have they got a well stocked library? Is there a teaching apiary? If not, how are they going to teach you, or anyone else? Are there any teaching sessions? Are all their meetings bee related, or simply social events? Don't forget you are joining a BKA to learn beekeeping.
In these days of litigation, insurance for third party and product liability are important. See if the BKA offers these. In England and Wales there is an opportunity for all BKAs to offer Bee Diseases Insurance (BDI), for colonies that are destroyed by the Bee Inspectors as the result of Foul Brood infection.
In nearly 50 years of beekeeping I have seen many BKAs have their ups and downs. It is usually determined by the people who are members at the time. In an ideal situation the beginner will be helped as much as possible to get to a competent level, then consolidate and help the next group of beginners when they arrive. It should be an ongoing thing. I urge everyone to see their BKA as a tight knit organisation where the members use their various skills for the benefit of everyone. Even if you don't know much about bees, there are other skills that are always needed, whether that be a solicitor, nurse or carpenter. Sadly some BKAs could do with an undertaker!
I am an honest chap and tell things as I see them. I have seen all kinds of BKA from good to bad, or at least that's my assessment. If you have a good BKA you are lucky, please try to help keep it that way. If you think it can do with some improvement then have a chat with some like minded people and offer to do something about it. You can make suggestions in ways that shouldn't offend anyone. It might be there are a small group trying to keep things going and your offer of help may be welcomed.
If you are looking for a BKA there are the main national and a small selection of county and local websites to be found by clicking the button at the top left.