SICAMM 2021: the online conference that’s got everyone buzzing

With over 200 delegates, the first SICAMM online conference about dark European honey bees has been a huge success.

SICAMM has held conferences every two years “to support the survey, conservation, management and breeding of all extant ecotypes and geographical variants of the dark European honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera.” Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, SICAMM was unable to hold the planned 2020 meeting in Ireland and, so the SICAMM committee organised and held its first online conference beginning on 23rd October, 2021. It has been followed with a weekly lecture series held every Wednesday evening at 6pm GMT. These sessions run until 22 March 2022.  

Viewers joined the opening day from many countries across Europe, representing the large area over which the dark European honey bee is naturally found. The lectures covered various aspects of bee science, conservation, and elements of beekeeping. Hosts Gabriele Soland and Norman Carreck introduced knowledgeable and thought-provoking talks on molecular studies into local bee populations in Switzerland with Matthieu Guichard; the Irish wild honey bee study with Prof. Grace McCormack; and, the Colonsay dark bee reserve with Andrew Abrahams. Feedback was positive, with compliments received on the professional viewing service and range of interesting talks.  

The conference has continued with a weekly lecture series covering a wide range of topics covering genetics, biology and disease control, as well as conservation. These talks include proteomic comparisons of winter and summer bees; exploring varroa tolerance in dark honey bees; to looking at the honey bee gut microbiome as a possible source of probiotics, through to the conservation efforts made to rebuild stocks of dark honey bees in Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Russia. Already, delegates have heard from Dylan Elen on his studies of Welsh bees, and how he learned to love a Welsh cup of tea; Galtee bee farmer Aoife Nic Giolla Coda and the Native Irish Honey Bee Society; and, Plymouth-based Victoria Buswell spoke engagingly on her genetic studies on UK populations of dark honey bees. We learned that UK dark bee populations, like those of Ireland, appear to have a unique genetic signature, although wisely both she and Grace McCormack thought confirmatory studies were needed. Discussions after each talk have been lively, with hosts fielding questions in English, French and German.  SICAMM has recorded the talks and Q&A sessions. Within a week of each talk, they are available to watch again via SICAMM’s subscription service for 30EUR to access the entire season of live and recorded lectures. The full lecture programme and how to subscribe can be found on The recorded talks can be viewed with subtitles in English, French, German and Russian to make the presentations as inclusive as possible to its international audience.

SICAMM – Societas internationalis pro Conservatione Apis Mellifera mellifera is an international non-profit organisation, creating a network and information platform for organisations and scientists protecting the endangered Dark European honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera; “Amm”).

The Amm bee is native throughout much of temperate Europe, from the Atlantic coast of Britain and Ireland, through western and central Europe, reaching as far north as Norway and Sweden, to the Carpathian and Ural mountains, and beyond.

The subspecies is threatened because some beekeepers have and continue to import and use other subspecies and hybrids of honey bee which interbreed with the local dark Amm bee. It is important to conserve local Amm genetic lines not only to maintain biodiversity, but also for their productivity and adaptation to survive in their indigenous range.

Every two years, SICAMM (now SICAMM Foundation) hosts conferences throughout Europe sharing expertise in identifying the subspecies correctly, its characteristics, and conservation.

Founded in 1995, the association of SICAMM was established between beekeepers, conservationists and research scientists. On 14 November 2019, the organisation was formalised as SICAMM Foundation. 

SICAMM Foundation is a not for profit Foundation no. 76394166, registered in the Netherlands.

Registered address: SICAMM Foundation, douwe Totlaan 27, 881CW Terschelling, Netherlands 

Threatened imports of non-native honey bees into Ireland ….

Recent reports in the media of threatened imports into Ireland of non-native honey bees has Irish beekeepers up in arms. The Scottish Native Honey Bee Society share the concerns of beekeepers in Ireland who have worked tirelessly and devoted a lifetime of beekeeping in bringing the native honey bee to the unique position it now occupies. To find out more please follow this link to the Native Irish Honey Bee Society …….

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

Continue reading “Conserving Black Bees”

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).

Continue reading “SNHBS 4th Annual Meeting”

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.

Continue reading “Colonsay’s Honeybee Reserve given international acclaim”

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.

Continue reading “Scottish Native Honey Bee Conservation Project”