P1060920When Roger Patterson last visited the Isle of Man at the beginning of May, he managed to visit eleven apiaries largely in the north of the island and assessed 54 honeybee colonies. This was pretty good going as out of the four days he was here, it bucketed down for one and a half!

This weekend he returns, to visit and assess colonies in the south.

This will be Roger’s sixth visit to the island; there were three visits in 2009/2010, and another in January 2015.

As a very experienced beekeeper (he has been keeping bees for 52 years) Roger is a Trustee of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) with special responsibility for the Isle of Man, (and various other areas in the British Isles). He is Vice Chairman of the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA), and as such has a special interest in improving the quality of bees generally.

As Roger writes:

Although there is a view that Manx bees are native (Apis mellifera mellifera, Amm), my previous visits indicated there was a fairly high level of introgression from exotic sub-species. Many colonies display yellow colouring in the queens, drones and workers that Amm should not have. My conclusion is there may be influence from Italians (Apis mellifera ligustica, Aml). This may be the cause of the variable temper that I had previously encountered.

I was asked to concentrate on two things, firstly to advise on ways of increasing the “native” element in the bees, secondly to reduce the defensive nature that is seen in some colonies.

P1060918One of the bee-characteristics Roger is looking for – friendliness. Watching him at work I was amazed, firstly how immune he appears to be to bee stings, but also how little aggression was shown by the blackbees we came across, as this picture shows!

The ultimate purpose of Roger’s visits are to assist in improving the quality of  bees on the island; this includes finding the best colonies from which to select gene stock and to establish and carry out a bee breeding programme from these sources.

During Roger’s May visit, many beekeepers on the island availed themselves

Medicine was never like this!

Medicine was never like this!

of the opportunity to learn from Roger’s teaching, and especially interesting were the sessions on grafting, as shown here.

And so far, the programme has been fairly successful. As Tony Leadley, responsible for the technical side of the Manx Bee Improvement initiative reports:

One set of 10 grafted cells was started during Roger’s visit in May – of these 5 mated queens were obtained, one of which requeened the cell raiser at the Federation’s apiary at Shenharra.

A second set of grafts was started on the 29th of June. So far 9 out of 10 grafts seem to have taken.

We currently have 5 mating nuclei established.  Setting up nuclei takes up considerable resources in the form of frames of brood and bees to make them up along with the time needed to look after them – producing the queen cells is relatively easy in comparison (using a queenless cell raising colony).

The 8 colonies at Shenharra need to be looked after which takes a considerable amount of time, especially at the height of the season. Queen rearing is very dependent on timing – cells need to be distributed at a specific time otherwise queencells or queens can be lost.

Considering our inexperience in queen rearing I think we are making progress, however scaling up production of queens will require a large investment in more mating nuclei (specifically the bees and brood to make them up) along with investment in time to maintain them. More people being involved in both the queen rearing side as well as looking after the apiary at Shenharra will make things easier, so volunteers are always welcome.

Apart from the colony inspections, during Roger’s visit this week he will also be researching the possibility of bringing the biennial BIBBA convention to the Isle of Man in 2016, and meetings have been set up with the Isle of Man government Ministers to discuss this exciting opportunity.

Beekeepers are encourage to keep an eye on the website towards the weekend, as all will be welcome to join Roger as he assesses more colonies. Details will be provided closer to the time.

And a final word from Roger:

I probably inspected well less than 10% of Manx colonies during my visit in May, but the pattern was similar to my previous visits. In all apiaries I visited there was nothing but kindness offered by beekeepers, even though they weren’t always available. There were no objections to someone they didn’t know inspecting their colonies, for which I am grateful.



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