Conserving Black Bees

(Apis mellifera mellifera) in the Hebrides, Scotland

By Andrew Abrahams

We are grateful to the author Andrew Abrahams and the editor of the American Bee Journal for permission to use this article.

Readers might ask, why on earth spend much of a lifetime con­serving what most beekeepers perceive as an aggressive, unproduc­tive race of honey bee — a race per­haps left behind by history? I was fortunate, often by chance rather than grand design, to gather up some pure remnants of Scotland’s native honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) in the late 1970s and since then I have managed over decades to improve this popula­tion in the isolation of the remote is­land of Colonsay, which lies 16 miles off the west coast of Scotland (see

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SNHBS 4th Annual Meeting

Loch Leven Community Campus, Muir, Kinross – 14 March 2020

By Justine Swinney

Thanks to everyone who attended our Annual meeting on 14 March at the Loch Leven Community Campus in Muir, Kinross.  Considering the uncertain situation we were in just nine days before the full Covid-19 lockdown, we had an impressive turnout; and thank you to everyone for following the guidance at that time in terms of vigilant handwashing etc. 

Jo Widdicombe, President of BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association) valiantly journeyed up from Cornwall and gave us two inspiring talks on bee improvement (read more about Jo’s presentation here).

David Evans, who graciously stepped into the breach, when Keith Pierce reluctantly decided to stay safe at home in Ireland, gave us a fascinating talk, entitled “Who’s the Daddy?”, where he discussed the importance of polyandry – the mating of a queen with multiple (12-19) drones – and hyperpolyandry – the mating of a queen with 30+ drones – on colony health.  He then described the prevalence of rare patrilines in emergency queens, compared to those in worker bees and queens raised in supersedure and swarm situations.  You can find more detail on this topic in David’s website, and in Gavin Ramsay’s article in the last SNHBS newsletter. There was some interesting discussion about the potential implications of this evidence in queen rearing activities.  David pointed out that, although the evolutionary benefits of selecting rare patrilines in emergency queens are not clear, the fact that it happens repeatedly, suggests that there are evolutionary benefits!

A new board was voted in during the membership meeting:

  • Gavin Ramsay, Chair
  • John Durkacz, Deputy Chair
  • Margaret Packer, Membership
  • Sandy Scott, Fundraising
  • Alastair Sharp
  • David Morland (new)
  • Tracy Robinson (new)

Kate Atchley, Helena Jackson, Dawn Rigby and Justine Swinney will be stepping down and vacancies remain open for the Secretary and Newsletter Coordinator positions.   If you would like to join the trustees, take on one of these positions and help steer SNHBS’ direction, please reach out to us via

Finally, we had some very valuable discussion about what members would like SNHBS to be doing.  Thanks to everyone for their willingness to make suggestions and for the open dialogue.  Members appreciate the reality of shortages of Amm stocks and the limits this poses on progress.  Many of the suggestions centred around activities we could work on in the meantime, until Amm stocks build up. These included:

  • Help members build skills, such as queen rearing and new queen introductions.
  • Set up networking between bee breeding groups, by holding periodic video meetings to discuss specific topics and to share general learnings.
  • Consider opportunities to improve the best available stocks in areas where purity is currently an unrealistic aim.
  • Conduct a roadshow, visiting local beekeeping associations, to promote what SNHBS does and to dispel a few myths, namely:
    • that native bees are ill-tempered
    • that beekeepers in built-up areas cannot contribute to SNHBS’ aims: they can still get involved in local bee improvement.
    • that queen rearing is the domain of only the most experienced beekeepers: if you can do swarm control you can do queen rearing!
  • Find ways to encourage more new members

The trustees have begun and will continue to discuss these suggestions at our board meetings and build them into SNHBS plans for the next year.  We’ll share more as thoughts evolve.  If you have a particular passion about anything on the list and would like to be involved in, or even lead a team to make things happen, please reach out to us via

Thanks again to everyone who attended: we hope you all enjoyed it and are feeling inspired about the new bee season.

Colonsay’s Honeybee Reserve given international acclaim

[Article from the August 2019 newsletter]

World leading honeybee researcher Professor Tom Seeley from Cornell University, Mass. U.S.A. recently honoured Colonsay’s Black Bee Reserve with a two-day visit to study at first-hand the behaviour of our native honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera, and also to learn about the conservation work, breeding and management systems being carried out by the island beekeeper, Andrew Abrahams.

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SNHBS member, Martin Leahy, becomes International Young Beekeeper 2019

Many of you will know by now that Martin Leahy, a member of Tarland Bee Group, won the title of International Young Beekeeper 2019 at the competition held recently in Slovakia.  Martin is a member of SNHBS and believes at least some of his success at the International Meeting of Young Beekeepers (IMYB) is attributable to his attendance at SNHBS events. Continue reading “SNHBS member, Martin Leahy, becomes International Young Beekeeper 2019”

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.

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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.

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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.

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