B4 and the Cornwall Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Group

The B4 Project

Andrew Brown was so taken by the difference in behaviour of a colony developed in our Group, brought up to the Tamar Valley, and its obvious superiority to his local bees, that he investigated further. The colony was black, with all-black workers and drones, foraged early and in cool weather, was frugal with its stores, well-tempered and brought in more honey. His studies led him to understand better the history of bees in these islands and the original bee, known as Apis mellifera mellifera. Further exploration brought him into contact with BIPCo, founded in East Cornwall, dedicated to preserving the best of the native bee as represented in Cornwall. As a result, he founded the B4 Project (Bringing Back Black Bees) which was supported by CBIBBG founders (James and Rodger) and senior members of BIPCo. He also has been successful in bringing several existing organisations into the project, committed to supporting conservation of the best of Cornish bees. These are: Eden Project, Heligan Gardens, Duchy Nurseries, Paignton Zoo and Paradise Park.

The idea is to support collaboration between all these groups, publicity for (near-)native bees and research work into the extent that the genes of A.m.m. exist in Cornwall and how these might be preserved. To that end he has sought appropriate grants and commissioned research relevant to these aims. The first project found that the % of the old native bee genes were rather higher in selected Cornish bees than in the average UK bee colony. There was a further surprising result: the A.m.m. genes show that the strain of A.m.m. is significantly different to that of the Colonsay and Northumbrian samples they were compared with. All three are as different as Carnican bees are from Ligustican bees!


Before founding CBIBBG both RDD and JMK had found that the best performing bees were black bees with native characters. Both had selected for these characters and done their best to ensure that mating apiaries had all-black bees producing black drones to mate with them. Historically, poor summers produced in-strain matings. Evidence of Apiary Vicinity Mating was frequently to be found in 1-6 dead, popped drones on top of hives. After mating locally, drones returned to their own hives. In warmer, sunnier summers, more out-crossing is evident in that black queens produce workers with stripey bees, with orange or brown colouring in one or more abdominal segments.

An important result in our studies towards varroa tolerant bees was that the best varroa reduction behaviours were to be found in the black bees. Thus it was natural for us to join the B4 Project. We recognise that our priority in CBIBBG is to discover varroa-reducing behaviours in our bees and breed from these by developing them as drone-producers or as sources of new queens. This means that members are free to select from their own stock when they discover varroa-reducing behaviour. We would encourage sharing of breeding material in such cases. Without such evidence, we do encourage members to select for native characters and take dark colour as an indicator (Italian bees can be bred for darkness!). It works for us!

expanding apiaries throughout Cornwall

A second consequence of joining forces with B4 is that we are providing and managing bees at Eden, Heligan and exclusively at the Duchy Nurseries. We have provided bees for the Observation Hives installed at Eden, Heligan, Paignton Zoo and Paradise Park and are committed to replacing them if they replace their own queens and mate out of strain. This has made establishing potential mating apiaries easier. It also involves new groups of beekeepers as with Roseland Group, which already had members of CBIBBG.

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