As many Isle of Man Beekeepers know, Roger Patterson from The Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association visited the island and conducted a weekend long seminar over the last weekend in January. The meeting was attended by about twenty five local beekeepers; we were kept constantly interested and certainly stimulated by Roger’s knowledge, experience (he has been keeping bees for over 50 years) and his obvious, down to earth, practical skills. An example of Roger’s expertise can be found in his current article in the March 2015 edition of BBKA News.

Whilst the objective of the seminar was simple – to improve the quality of Manx Bees – the immediate upshot of the meeting was twofold.

 Firstly, Roger “volunteered” a group of four to spearhead the drive to focus on Bee Improvement procedures on the Isle of Man, and
 secondly, he promised to come back in the spring to see how the initiative is progressing.
We have now heard that Roger will return over the long weekend at the end of April during which he will visit as many apiaries as possible to help commence the process of assessing the “attitude” of Manx bees. This is great news as Roger’s enthusiasm for bee improvement is infectious and we hope to be able to demonstrate that the bee improvement initiative Roger founded is being properly established.

So what has the Bee Improvement committee done since Roger’s last visit?

• Obtained the authority and support from the IOM Beekeepers Federation for the establishment of the committee, as a subcommittee of the Federation.

• Made contact with the IOM Government Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture and especially opened a constructive dialogue with the Chief Veterinary Officer, Stuart Jaques , BVSc, MSc, MRCVS, during the last few weeks before the very important EU document was signed, which upholds the ban on the importation of bees into the Isle of Man. (The ban was the outcome of a campaign waged by Isle of Man Beekeepers since the late 1980s, and pushed doggedly by Harry Owens, the official Isle of Man Bee Inspector, for at least for the last ten years! The ban is similar to that earned by the Finnish island of Aaland in 2013.)

• Commenced the re-organization and enlargement of the training apiary in St Johns to accommodate ten teaching colonies and a shed for equipment – and a cup of tea!

• Began the improvement of communications and publicity via email / website / newspapers and radio, with the aim, if possible, to get a weekly or monthly entry in the paper with jobs to do in the apiary.

• Preparing for the breeding queen bees at St Johns and on Forestry land.

• Considered ways in which the Federation’s “Seal of Approval” can be re-instated for pure Manx Honey.

• Opened the discussion with the IOM Government for more realistic penalties for miscreants who break the bee importation ban.

The Bee Improvement Committee consists of Keith Osborn, Breeshey Brew, Tony Leadley and Johnny Kipps.

At Roger Patterson’s suggestion, we will be contacting all beekeepers on the island to
• ask if they are prepared to have their bees assessed by Roger on his visit,
• accept suggestions regarding what queens to cull and what to breed from.

Clearly, its important to stress that some beekeepers may have very good bees that may help the island as a whole to improve.

We will be preparing a Google Maps profile of all the apiaries on the island so Roger will be able to visit as many as physically possible over the four days to begin the process of assessing the bees on the island, from which appropriate benchmarks can be established. (We are of course sensitive to the proper handling of personal information – this map won’t be available to the public! This differs from the map on the IOM Beekeepers website; this is an assist for those marketing their honey products.)

As part of this initiative, the Bee Improvement Committee has a few requests

o Donations of hives, colonies, nucs and swarms to be used at the training apiary. The strong recommendation from Roger Patterson is that we stick to one type of hive for standardisation and this be the National. If anybody has National hives with or without colonies that they would like to donate for Bee Improvement, please do contact Keith Osborn on 851192, or let us know on the contact form, here.

o That all beekeepers on the island who aren’t currently members of one of the three associations on the island (each part of the IOM Beekeepers Federation), please join one. Membership is dirt cheap, and the benefits to the island of pooling knowledge – but more importantly, of possibly improving the island’s bee gene pool – could be considerable.

o Please make sure that your colonies are registered with DEFA. It is the law – but in the past some have overlooked this vital part of the Island’s bee protection system!

o Anybody who may wish to donate funds to this initiative would be welcomed. The IOM Beekeepers Federation has set aside £3,000 for the establishment of the Bee Improvement initiative but until the process becomes self-financing, further funding would be welcomed. Potential donors could have their funds earmarked for specific bee improvement projects, and will be given full accounting how their funds have been utilised.

In time, as mentioned above, the Bee Improvement initiative should become self-financing through the sale of honey and the sale of queens. As the word gets out that Manx queens come from colonies that are foulbrood and virus free it is expected Manx bees may command premium prices as buyers appreciate that Manx queens will not infect their colonies. The sale of bees by post is a well-established practise, and the current, normal price in the UK is between £25 and £40 per queen.

Whilst the market will ultimately decide, it does seem reasonable that bees coming from a disease free environment like the Isle of Man could be priced a few notches above those levels.

Whilst the Isle of Man and Aaland have both now been successful in putting in place a legal prohibition from the importation of bees to keep our islands’ bees free of varroa, the remote Hebridean islands of Colonsay and Oronsay have been granted “sanctuary” status to prevent cross-breeding. Both islands are apparently also varroa free.

Since January 2014 under Scottish law it is an offence to keep any honeybees on Colonsay and Oronsay except Apis mellifera mellifera (the native “black bee”) whose hardiness allows them to survive the harsh climate of Scotland’s west coast.

This is interesting from IOM bee improvement as it’s the blackbee that we hope will form the nucleus of our bee improvement programme, as well. So, these Scottish islands and the Isle of Man will be striving towards the same objective, although coming from slightly different starting points!

A word from Harry Owens about his ambitions for the Bee Improvement Initiative:
• To try and improve the general population of the bees by offering better queens to members at a reasonable price.

• By doing this, the bees in general will improve.

• The mating of queens in various areas will improve to the standard we are looking for.

• This does not stop exporting queens when available.

• This will not happen overnight but will not take too long; say, two to three years will show the improvement wanted.

And finally, on the subject of money, its worth noting that Roger Patterson comes to the island for the love of bees; he has his travel and expenses paid, but asks no remuneration! The island is very lucky to have friends like that!


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