Guest post by Roger Patterson


BIBBA is the acronym of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association, formed in 1964.

It is an association for enthusiasts and keepers of our native (Apis mellifera mellifera) and near native honey bees, which are of the type found on the Isle of Man.

BIBBA holds a biennial conference, the last one being held in Llangollen, North Wales, in September 2014, with over 250 attending.

Villa marina

Picture of Villa Marina by kind permission of Peter Killey of


The next one will be held at the Villa Marina, Douglas in September. The last time a BIBBA conference was held in the Isle of Man was in 1973, with an attendance of around 70, one of whom was Harry Owens. An account of that conference is displayed on the Isle of Man Beekeepers Federation website. This was scanned from the British Bee Journal, a publication that ceased some years ago. There are photo’s on the Fed website too, which were supplied by Harry.

The Manx Bee Improvement Group (MBIG) was recently formed to help and encourage beekeepers on the Island to assess and select their bees for desirable characteristics, including good temper and the reduction of genes of exotic races that are remnants of those that were imported in the past. Even though the MBIG has only been in existence a short time, it has already been recognised by the award of a Distinction prize for their submission to the Honeybee Health Initiative Awards. This is a global competition run by Vita (Europe) Limited to highlight the work of voluntary beekeeping groups to combat health threats to honey bees (in this case varroa) and publicise good practice.

As a way of recognising and supporting the MBIG, BIBBA are holding the 2016 conference in the Isle of Man.Quest for Manx Dark Honey bee

As BIBBA Conference and Workshop Secretary, I am the conference organiser. It is difficult for me to organise things locally, so a small group of Manx beekeepers, Breeshey Brew, Harry Owens, Keith Osborn and Johnny Kipps are assisting me, for which I am grateful.

I see from the programme of the 1973 conference that over five days there were six listed lectures, given by three speakers. It appears there were other lectures, but with no titles on the programme, presumably were ad hoc. Interestingly there was entertainment provided by the Manx Folk Dance Society, that still exists today.

The 2016 conference is being held over only three days, with 29 presentations being given by 27 presenters. In assembling the programme, I have tried to provide a wide range of topics that will suit all beekeepers, whatever their knowledge, ability or interests. Although a conference aimed at beekeepers, at each session there is one topic that will help the understanding of honey bees by non-beekeepers, especially if they have an interest in biology and entomology, where of course they will be welcome.

Randy Oliver

Randy Oliver

This is a tremendous opportunity for Manx beekeepers to hear presenters who are amongst the best available. This will include Randy Oliver who runs about 1,000 colonies in California with his sons. Randy is a very well known beekeeper who has his own website . We are incredibly lucky in being able to attract him to our conference, as he is very busy and in great demand. Although some of the methods he adopts may not be suitable for our bees or climate, he will largely be speaking on topics relevant to us. Surely it will be the largest beekeeping event ever held on the Island, all only a short distance from your home.

Progress is being made so quickly it is impossible for me to give you the latest information. I strongly advise checking the conference page of the BIBBA website regularly where you will see the list of speakers and booking details when available. (NB:

There are two simultaneous presentations throughout the event to choose from, with the cost including lunch and refreshments. There is a reduction for BIBBA members that we have also extended to Manx Fed members. Be careful when booking, otherwise you will pay the full price that can’t be reimbursed. There is a further early bird discount, so make sure you book on time.

There will be a dinner on the Wednesday evening that is also pre-bookable.

When organising an event of this kind there are a number of unavoidable costs that have to be found by some means. In order to keep the fees for attendees down a common way is to seek funding, which is becoming more difficult. The Manx Government have helped and encouraged us and Isle of Man Beekeepers Federation members at their AGM voted a grant to help offset costs. BIBBA is grateful to both for their generosity.

Since the last BIBBA conference, varroa has been introduced into much of the world, including the areas from where many visiting beekeepers will come. Luckily varroa and foul brood are absent from the Island, a status that in my opinion Manx beekeepers should fiercely defend. I kept bees for 30 years before varroa arrived, so I have the experience of seeing how that tiny pest has devastated beekeeping. Varroa is spread by bees being moved around the world, so as you are an island the easy way of avoiding having the problems others have is to make absolutely certain that no bees or queens are imported.

Just one varroa mite, smaller than a pin head, if introduced into a colony of bees, will probably mean the Isle of Man has varroa forever.

Although it is unlikely that varroa can be transmitted in protective equipment, we have decided to ask all conference attendees not to bring theirs with them. As I visit regularly, I will have a new veil that is kept with a Manx beekeeper. I hope that satisfies any fears there may be.


Roger Patterson during one of his visits to the Isle of Man in 2015

I will be visiting you from 28 April until 3 May. I have been asked to give several presentations and demonstrations, the details of which will be publicised. One will probably be on varroa. As you know, there has recently been speculation about bees being imported into the Island. If correct, it is highly likely they were infected with varroa. If so, it is perfectly possible for varroa to be spread throughout the island within about 12 months. Are you confident you can spot it? Do you know what it looks like? Do you know the life cycle? Do you know how it can vector viruses? Do you know how to monitor the level of infestation in a colony? Do you know what DWV is? Do you know what PMS is? Do you know how to reduce infestation? If your answer is “No” to any of these questions, then you need to make sure you come along to the presentation. The alternative could be you owning dead colonies very quickly.

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Shenharra Training Apiary, St Johns

I also hope to explain what the Manx Bee Improvement Group (MBIG) is doing and I will be giving demonstrations at Shenharra and hopefully elsewhere. Breeshey Brew will be arranging my itinerary, so look out for details on the website, and if she asks for help, please give it.

Thanks and best wishes for the coming season. I hope to see you all soon, if not, at the conference.

Roger Patterson.




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