The Scottish Native Honey Bee Society
The granting of reserve status in 2013, to protect Andrew Abrahams' native bees on Colonsay and Oronsay; the wish to avoid importing bees given the threat of small hive beetle; the commissioning by the Scottish Government of Gavin Ramsay's research into Restocking Honey Bee Colonies in Scotland, published in 2015: all these have contributed to a growing interest among beekeepers in breeding local stock and in our native dark bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, in particular. This is the sub-species which gradually moved north through western Europe after the last ice age.
The decision to launch the new native bee society built slowly from online discussions on the Scottish beekeepers forum (SBAi) and in various gatherings over the last few years. Some of us got together at the 2015 SBA autumn convention, and that nucleus invited others known to us to form a 12-person team to share skills and effort to prepare the launch.
We see the need for a concerted effort in Scotland to preserve and promote our native honey bee which is under threat from breeding with non-indigenous bees in a similar way to the Scottish wildcat, now the focus of significant conservation effort. Some of our inspiration comes from witnessing the enthusiasm and action stimulated in Ireland by relatively recent forming of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society.
Our provisional aims and objectives are "to promote the conservation, maintenance, breeding, study and widespread reintroduction of the Scottish native honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera."
We hope to encourage beekeepers and groups of beekeepers to improve stocks locally and make them available to the beekeeping community. For the first time, there will be a means for beekeepers sympathetic to keeping native honey bees to: come together; learn from each other; exchange breeding lines; promote native honey bees in the media; and influence government and regulators. We anticipate that workshops on breeding and queen raising will be part of our activities and that we hope that the organisation will produce a regular publication. The scale of the ambition of the new society will, to a large extent, be governed by the new membership at the first meeting. We see our activities as complementing those of the Scottish Beekeepers Association, the main organisation for all beekeepers in Scotland.
SNHBS is keen to work with existing beekeeping organisations once established. These will include the main national beekeeping organisation in Scotland - The Scottish Beekeepers Association - as well as native-bee organisations such as The Native Irish Honey Bee Society, BIBBA and SICAMM.
We strongly support the sustainability of beekeeping and to promote this, beekeepers need to possess the skills to maintain and propagate their own stocks and know how to minimise their winter losses. Relying on high volumes of imports to satisfy a demand from inattentive beekeepers who lose their stocks due to Varroa, inappropriate feeding or poor swarm control do little to help the cause of beekeeping. Importation also risks the spread of additional bee pathogens or new strains of pathogens. This risk is borne by the whole beekeeping community and not simply those importing or using imported stocks.
The forming of SNHBS will allow Scottish beekeepers to concentrate on the improvement and propagation of native honey bees. Scotland and the islands have some harsh conditions that are unsuitable for imported bees, presumably resulting in some of the heavy losses that have recently been experienced. Importing more bees to make up the losses may be a commercial opportunity for a small number, but is not sustainable for the majority. I hope the SNHBS can encourage Scottish beekeepers to use native or near native bees in preference to those that evolved in different conditions where they are more suitable.
I am pleased there is a willingness to work with other similar organisations. There are many commonalities, together with a huge amount of expertise that can be shared.