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.

Prof. Seeley is no stranger to small, remote islands as for many years he used the island of Appledore distant from the Maine coast to carry out his ground-breaking research work.  This research has helped to tell us much more of the secrets of the honeybee community and how their scouts seek out and choose suitable new nesting sites in the wild.  Importantly, there is clear debate and democratic decision making amongst the bees as to the final choice and suitability of possible nest sites.  The scouts then have the onerous task of directing and leading the swarm (many who have never left the confines of their nest) exactly to their new home.

Prof. Seeley has followed in the footsteps of the Nobel prize-winner, Karl von Frisch, who decoded the wonderful honeybee dance language that allows nectar gatherers to exactly communicate good forage sources.

Years of researching honeybees in the wild has convinced Prof. Seeley that honeybees become highly adapted to their local environment and are perfectly able to control the pests and diseases that are presently so damaging to worldwide managed populations.  They have after all been around for nearly 50 million years! He is a great advocate of using and conserving local honeybees.

In a letter of appreciation of his visit to Colonsay he wrote,

“The Isle of Colonsay is certainly important for its human history and culture, but to biologists, it is even more important as a unique reserve in western Europe of a pure population of honeybees that are native to Scotland.  I applaud you in establishing and maintaining the Colonsay and Oransay Black Bee Reserve”

Prof. Tom Seeley’s latest book, The Lives Of Bees,  is now available from Northern Bee Books and other booksellers