The Isle of Man Beekeepers are working to bring back the ‘British Black’ honeybee
Some of the older beekeepers on the Isle of Man can still remember a time when you didn’t need to wear gloves when managing bees. The bees’ temperament was so gentle that you could open up a hive, pull out frames of honey, and simply not get stung. If you try to do that these days you’ll not be so lucky.
The reason they could be more relaxed in their beekeeping is that the honeybees from fifty years ago were different to the bees we have on the island today. Although imports are now strictly forbidden, up until the 1980s foreign bees could still be brought to the Isle of Man. These more yellow and aggressive bees bred with our native ‘British Blacks’ and now our local population is a mixed bag of colour, temperament, and productivity.
One of the reasons that foreign bees were probably brought here was to increase honey production. Our native bees are much smaller and produce less honey than the larger and more commercially popular Italian strain. However, many beekeepers throughout not only the island, but Britain as a whole, believe that the ‘British Black’ is better suited for our climate and would be more resistant to disease and the environmental factors that threaten honeybees right across the world. Bringing back the ‘British Black’, and thus improving Manx bees, can be accomplished through selective breeding.
Last year the IOM Beekeepers welcomed Roger Patterson of the UK’s Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA) to help guide our local beekeepers in this effort. A subcommittee of our local association was then formed, being led by Keith Osborn, Breeshey Brew, Tony Leadley, and Johnny Kipps. They are now working with Roger Patterson to identify colonies with characteristics similar to our original bee populations. They are looking for honeybees that are small, nearly completely black, and gentle in nature among other traits. Using these bees we could then breed the rest of our honeybees back to a more resilient and gentle nature. If successful, it would be a win for both honeybees and beekeepers alike.
For more info on the scheme visit the IOM Beekeepers website