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Apr 17, 2012

Black Honeybees Rediscovered in United Kingdom

Apis mellifera, native British black honeybee
Photo: Bippa
On 17 April 2012 The Guardian published an article on the rediscovery of native British black honeybees (apis mellifera) that were thought to be extinct everywhere in the United Kingdom except for northern Britain.  They have been found in north Wales, east Anglia, and as far south as West Sussex.

Diversity is thought to be an important factor in reversing bee colony collapse.  Rediscovering native black honeybees is an important find.  According to the Bee Improvement and Bee Beeders' Association (Bibba), they are hardier with smaller populations, which enables them to survive through food shortages and severe climate.  This gives them greater capacity to survive in the British climate than the southern European honeybees popular with U.K. beekeepers.

The rediscovery of the British black honeybees was made during a Bibba mapping project that studied hives across the United Kingdom.  This was funded by the Co-operative Group.  Bibba is interested in following up on this discovery with the creation and commercialization of a large-scale breeding program to make the black honeybees as available as imported southern European honeybees (that are actually grown in New Zealand).  Importations of southern European honeybees began approximately 100 years after a virus nearly wiped out the entire population of native British honeybees.

The British Beekeepers Association encourages honeybee biodiversity and the conservation of native species.  It estimates that "of the 250,000 hives across the UK today, less than 1% are still likely to house black bees."

According to the U.K.'s Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the government is interested in supporting conservation efforts.  "Bees are vital to our food production and environment, so we're supporting beekeepers by providing advice and funding research on bee health. In addition, we're working with beekeeping groups on a 10-year plan to protect and improve the health of honeybees."

For more see: 

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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