Sourcing native Scottish honey bees

Many members are seeking to buy native bees and been frustrated by the lack of stocks and information about breeders. So let us explain the current situation, to avoid disappointment, and outline SNHBS’s plans to increase Amm availability for the future.

As you know, SNHBS is committed to identifying and conserving the Scottish native honey bee – Apis mellifera mellifera. In time, we hope this species will be the bee of choice for beekeepers across Scotland. This, however, is a long-term aspiration and in the meantime Amm breeding is very limited and the numbers of mated queens and nucs available to buy is low. This has been exacerbated by the last three summers in which queen mating has been poor, causing further difficulty in meeting demand.

Members are therefore being asked to be patient and to do what they can to prepare to keep Amm when more queens become available.

There is one breeder providing Amm queens and nucs in 2020: Andrew Abrahams on Colonsay where he has been granted reserve status to protect his Amm bees:

Demand for queens far exceeds supply at present so priority is being given to Scottish breeding groups and those that have the benefit of isolation (for mating true). Please take this into account if you are considering placing an order and, if you meet these criteria, order early and be prepared to be patient.

In the meantime, we encourage members to improve their queen rearing skills so they can actively contribute to increasing stock once they have Amm bees. For now, breed from your best bees. Working with your neighbours can support good bees in an area and prepare you to start of an Amm breeding group in the future, especially if you are able to identify a sufficiently isolated mating site.

At the same time SNHBS, through its Conservation Project begun in 2018, has identified some promising Amm stocks which are not currently included in known breeding programmes. This year, if granted access to breeding material by those who manage these bees, we hope to rear queens from them and, in 2021, to assess the ‘lines’ with a view to making them more widely available.

Currently several small breeding groups are being set up and new mating sites tested. These are being supported by others with experience in queen rearing and provided with breeding material where possible. These groups may also be enabled by seeking SAMMBA funding.

As is often the case in beekeeping, with forward planning, careful fulfilment of plans and above all, patience, we hope to see good Amm queens and nucs become more readily available in two or three years’ time.

Kate Atchley

Trustee & Cheviot Project

4 thoughts on “Sourcing native Scottish honey bees

  1. Hello Kate

    Does SNHBS have records of the Varroa status of the various groups rearing Amm? It would certainly be good to keep these records to try and maintain as many mite-free locations as possible. It might also help those thinking of setting up mating sites to which virgin queens are brought for mating or – for the future – in colony exchanges to increase genetic diversity.


    1. Hi David

      Yes, Varroa is a complicating factor in the exchange of bee genetics as indeed are other pathogens. The locations that have managed to keep Varroa out (and there is Amm breeding in Varroa-free locations) may also have managed to exclude some other pathogens. Nosema ceranae perhaps and even Lothmaria. EFB is another concern and is sometimes asymptomatic and unnoticed. Maybe we need some enterprising scientist to have a look at the full load of microorganisms in these reserves of Varroa-free stock and compare that with elsewhere 😉 We haven’t yet got to the stage of offering a means of enriching the genepool in these isolated locations but we do need to know how we can safely do this, if at all.

      cheers, Gavin

  2. Hello Kate,
    We have bought in queens from Jonathan Getty and have four at present, with two ordered for this June. We would have preferred to obtain locally but nothing available. The plan is to mix with our local bees (which are very good) and breed from the best. Fortunately our apiary is fairly remote so we have a degree of isolation.
    We would like to know a good way of evaluating for purity as an added tool
    when we select breeding stock. Please can you advise. Thanks, Paul and Val

  3. Hi Paul

    Some of us active in SNHBS breeding groups (including myself) have bought queens from Jon but just to see what they are like. We keep them in apiaries miles away from our Scottish breeding stock as we are committed to breeding what is left of Scottish stock and Jon’s lines are really just giving us an idea of how good they could be. The Irish have made a convincing case that they can distinguish Irish stock from other Amm in Europe and at present we don’t know if we can say the same for pure Scottish stock. See the paper by Jack Hasset and colleagues:

    So we see the Conservation Project, and the way it will feed into breeding groups, as conserving contemporary Scottish material as far as we can. Of course, that may have been affected by historic importations from other parts of Europe (as has the Irish material) but as long as we have indigenous material to breed from, we’d rather focus on that.

    To check purity we have guidelines on this site – look under ‘Honey Bee ID’. If you have locally sourced stock that has not yet been crossed with Irish lines, we would be glad to have look at them for you too. The Conservation Project is still open to looking (and hopefully sharing) at such lines and the first stage would be to send good quality images to John Durkacz who is now coordinating this rather than Ian’s system of regional coordinators for the 2018 survey. The ideal submission is three different high quality images taken at an angle looking down on top bars with bees. The quality should be good enough for us to zoom in and see abdominal hairs:

    hope that helps – Gavin

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