SNHBS Queen Rearing at the Cabrach.

Queen rearing for SNHBS was initiated in May and interested people formed a very loose group in the North East of Scotland, with a good percentage of SNHBS members responding to a request to help out.

A widely dispersed group, all connected by a group e-mail, started to hatch a plan.  Ewan Campbell used information from Bee Base to triangulate potential locations which were at least 10 km from any known apiaries.   The idea was to install Apidea boxes with virgin queens and hope that the virgins didn’t mate, to show the area was truly isolated, with no honey-bee colonies nearby – the first step in the long process of producing Scottish Native Queens.

To do this, Yvonne volunteered to contact the land owners of these potential sites and explain our intentions to them.  She got in touch with Sue at the Cabrach Trust, who was very helpful and interested in our project and offered us two locations.

The Cabrach

Sarah and Yvonne, from Tarland Bee Group (TBG), set off to inspect the two locations.  The first was a windy site near the top of a hill, very close to farm buildings, and with a healthy amount of farm manure all around.  The second site was perfect: a very small enclosed courtyard with buildings on three sides and a high fence with a gate on the fourth.  The wall where the Apidea boxes were to be placed, was painted white and facing south – ideal.

For the next step, Ewan and TBG (who had already started their queen rearing programmes for the year) donated Apidea boxes with virgin queens.  We’ve decided that any virgins could be used at this point as we just wanted to establish that no drones were in the area.  Sarah and Yvonne set off for the Cabrach with the precious cargo.  

Three weeks into our trial, things were going well.  Two queens had turned to drone-layers, one queen had disappeared, and two were still virgins.  So, no drones around to mate with the virgins.  Our new site was looking promising.

Then – panic.  We had had a call for help from a neighbour just 5 km from our trial site.  A swarm had arrived in their chimney.  Disaster, we really didn’t want bees that close to our site and we had no idea of their heritage.  David Morland and Jenny Lewis came to the rescue and removed the bees from the chimney with the help of the farmer’s tractor bucket, and a ladder.  David also got the chance to use his bee vacuum.  You can see from the photos of the rescue that David had a great time!

To David and Jenny’s delight, the bees themselves looked very native indeed.  The queen was also found and marked with a red spot.

The whole colony was re-hived by David and he is monitoring it closely.  The queen was laying within a couple of days of the rescue ordeal.  In the picture of the queen with her helpers, Kitta noticed that the queen’s thorax was dented – probably as a result of the rough and tumble of the rescue (rather than clumsy marking) because two or three of the workers also had dented thoraces.  The workers might have sensed something was wrong because they quickly started building supersedure cells – some of which David broke down.  At the next inspection there was no sign of the marked queen, but later David found a new laying queen which he marked. She would have mated in the Bridge of Don area, so the original genetics will now be diluted, sadly. However, a sample of the original bees was sent off for genetic testing as part of the SNHBS Conservation Project.

Jenny also selected eight tiny larvae from the original chimney colony but, unfortunately, only one got capped in a queenless colony and, sadly, did not make it to emergence.

With the chimney colony removed, we were all back on track with the hope that our mating apiary is indeed in an isolated area without other honey-bee colonies.  After six weeks we had no queens mated and considered this a great start, especially given the perfect mating weather we had over the summer.  Next year we will get some virgin queens up to the Cabrach as early in the season as possible and, if we still have no drones there, we will be in a position to introduce Scottish native queens; flood the area with Scottish native drones; and then cross our fingers.

By Yvonne Davidson

Amm breeding in the Cheviots

The Ardnamurchan Native Bee Project was wound down last year, partly due to my imminent move to the Scottish Borders and because of heavy colony losses. These losses were due largely to the scarcity of forage in an area which suffered two successive Summers so wet that the bees were hindered from foraging adequately.

Early in 2018 I came to live near Kelso, bringing a few colonies of Amm bees from Ardnamurchan.

I soon set about looking for a suitable area to establish a mating apiary, sufficiently distant from other honey bees to avoid hybridisation. This proved less difficult than I had anticipated, thanks to information for interested locals about the whereabouts of managed bees and their eagerness to support the conservation of the native honey bee.

Not just one but two valleys in the Cheviot foothills appear to be suitable for isolated queen mating. I worked one of these this year and the results look promising: no non-native physical characteristics have been seen among the new queens’ offspring so far.

My breeding plan was to use three of the four colonies I brought with me to provide drones, with extra drone foundation in their brood boxes. The fourth colony was used for raising queen cells; and I bought a local colony to help furnish bees for nucs to house the virgin queens, once they were ready to mate.

The scale of this year’s queen rearing was small, given my few colonies. But with 12 colonies going into the winter, I hope to make more progress next year and be able to supply a few queens to others.

Meanwhile some fellow members of SNHBS, both local and from further afield, are taking a great interest in the potential of this area for Amm breeding. We are actively discussed how to make best use of this resource.

If you would like to contribute or participate in this initiative please get in touch.

Kate Atchley  

Scottish Native Honey Bee Conservation Project

Do you have dark native honey bees?

Do you think that you may have Scottish native honey bees?  Are you interested in helping their recovery in Scotland?  Would you like a chance to have them DNA tested?

We are seeking input from all beekeepers in Scotland to help find – and ultimately propagate – examples of the native honey bee.  If your bees, or the bees of other local beekeepers you collaborate with, are dark brown without significant banding, then please consider submitting photos for our crack team of assessors to investigate.  Scotland is divided into six regions with a local contact point (or Local Curator) who will guide you through the process.  Click here for instructions on how to participate in the SNHBS Conservation Project.

We have had a generous offer of DNA testing by a Danish researcher so the owners of selected colonies will be invited to send in a small sample of live bees for this analysis. We will let you know the results for your own colonies when the results come in, probably later this year.

This is part of a larger project run by the Scottish Native Honey Bee Society which aims to identify, propagate, assess and distribute good examples of our native honey bee. We have now opened the survey part of this project to all beekeepers in Scotland.

If you need any assistance or have a question please contact the Project Co-ordinator, Ian Lennox at

Thank you!

As an example of what you need to take part, here are three images from separate areas each showing three top bars covered in bees. Photos should be taken at an angle which helps ensure some bees in sharp enough focus to see the detail of hairs on the abdomen.  The fourth photo is a close-up showing tomentum hair bands and overhairs which are important in identifying native honey bees.   Click here for more information on identifying native honey bees.

SNHBS Annual Meeting

Our annual meeting this year, held on the 17th March, saw 61 of our 181 strong membership join us at Kinross Community Campus to listen to speakers Per Kryger, Jon Getty and Ian Lennox and to participate in the afternoon’s business meeting of the Society. Thank you to all of you who managed to attend despite the dire weather forecast, and also to those of you who got in touch with well wishes for the day.

Continue reading “SNHBS Annual Meeting”

Identify those native bees – Winter workshop, 18 November 2017

How do we identify native honey bees? This question is fundamental to everything we aim to do at SNHBS and members were invited along to the University of Aberdeen in November to get a handle on just this question.  Forty-five attendees had a full day hands-on introduction to the basic features and traits of Apis mellifera mellifera and got to hear about really exciting new developments in DNA analysis that might be available to hobby beekeepers soon.

Continue reading “Identify those native bees – Winter workshop, 18 November 2017”

Summer 2017 Queen Rearing Workshop in Perth

by Gavin Ramsay

Forty-six beekeepers, mostly SNHBS members, came to Perth for the queen-rearing workshop organised by the Ochils Breeding Group over two days in August. After a classroom session going through the principles of selection, queen rearing, queen mating and subsequent management, the attendees divided into three groups for the three practical sessions occupying much of the day. Jeff took them through the grafting session, showing the right stage of larva to use and the methods employed to move the larvae into cups for cell raising. Participants worked in pairs to ensure that everyone had a chance to try grafting for themselves, many using magnifying headbands to help the careful handling of larvae of the right stage. John took his groups through everything to do with mating nuclei, the types available with their good and less good points, making them up with young bees and their management. I showed finding and handling queens and demonstrated harvesting queens from mating nuclei after the new queens were established. Everyone was encouraged to try their hand at lifting young workers and handling them as if they were queens. The yellow-spotted workers can still be seen in the MiniPluses now! Continue reading “Summer 2017 Queen Rearing Workshop in Perth”

SNHBS – News from launch event

Compiled by Kate Atchley from texts by Ewan Campbell, Em Mackie and Gavin Ramsay.  (Article first published in The Scottish Beekeeper, July 2017)

On 1 April at the Lovat Hotel in Perth, almost 80 members of the newly-formed Scottish Native Honey Bee Society (SNHBS) met to launch and help to establish priorities for the society.  In this article we offer news of the launch event as well as confirmation of the society’s aims and initial activities. Continue reading “SNHBS – News from launch event”