SNHBS Newsletter, May 2020
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Dear SNHBS Member,
Articles in this issue:
  • SNHBS Annual Meeting - 14 March 2020 by Justine Swinney
  • Jo Widdicombe: 'Bee Improvement - what works for me' and 'Taking it further' by John Durkacz
  • Queen introduction - abstracts from articles written by Bernard Mӧbus, and compiled by John Durkacz
  • Chocolate Mining Bees by Gavin Ramsay and Justine Swinney

SNHBS Annual Meeting - 14 March 2020

Loch Leven Community Campus, Muir, Kinross

By Justine Swinney

Thanks to everyone who attended our Annual meeting on 14 March at the Loch Leven Community Campus in Muir, Kinross.  Considering the uncertain situation we were in just nine days before Covid-19 lockdown, we had an impressive turnout and thank you to everyone for following the guidance at that time in terms of vigilant handwashing etc.
Jo Widdicombe, President of BIBBA (Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association) valiantly journeyed up from Cornwall and gave us two inspiring talks on bee improvement (more on that to come).
David Evans, who graciously stepped into the breach when Keith Pierce, reluctantly, decided to stay safe at home in Ireland, gave us a fascinating talk entitled “Who’s the Daddy?”, where he discussed the importance of polyandry (the mating of a queen with multiple (12-19) drones) and hyperpolyandry (the mating of a queen with 30+ drones) on colony health. 

He then described the prevalence of rare patrilines in emergency queens, compared to those in worker bees and queens raised in supersedure and swarm situations.  You can find more detail on this topic in David’s article from his website, and in Gavin Ramsay’s article in the March SNHBS newsletter or here on the SNHBS website.  There was some interesting discussion about the potential implications of this evidence in queen rearing activities.  David pointed out that, although the evolutionary benefits of selecting rare patrilines in emergency queens are not clear, the fact that it happens repeatedly, suggests that there are evolutionary benefits!
 A new board was voted in during the membership meeting:

Gavin Ramsay, Chair
John Durkacz, Deputy Chair
Margaret Packer, Membership
Sandy Scott, Fundraising
Alastair Sharp
David Morland (new)
Tracy Robinson (new)
Kate Atchley, Helena Jackson, Dawn Rigby and Justine Swinney will be stepping down and vacancies remain open for the Secretary and Newsletter Coordinator positions.   If you would like to join the trustees, take on one of these positions and help steer SNHBS’ direction, please reach out to us via
Finally, we had some very valuable discussions about what members would like SNHBS to be doing.  Thanks to everyone for their willingness to make suggestions and for the open dialogue.  Members appreciate the reality of shortages of Amm stocks and the limits this poses on progress.  Many of the suggestions centred around activities we could work on in the meantime, until Amm stocks build up. These included:
  • Help members build skills, such as queen rearing and new queen introductions.
  • Set up networking between bee breeding groups, by holding periodic video meetings to discuss specific topics and to share general learnings.
  • Consider opportunities to improve the best available stocks in areas where purity is currently an unrealistic aim.
  • Conduct a roadshow, visiting local beekeeping associations, to promote what SNHBS does and to dispel a few myths, namely:
    • that native bees are ill-tempered
    • that beekeepers in built-up areas cannot contribute to SNHBS’ aims: they can still get involved in local bee improvement
    • that queen rearing is the domain of only the most experienced beekeepers: if you can do swarm control you can do queen rearing!
  • Find ways to encourage more new members.
The trustees have begun and will continue to discuss these suggestions at our board meetings and build them into SNHBS plans for the next year.  We will share more as thoughts evolve.  If you have a particular passion about anything on the list and would like to be involved in, or even lead a team to make things happen, please reach out to us via
Thanks again to everyone who attended: we hope you all enjoyed it and are feeling inspired about the new bee season.
Jo Widdicombe with Jeff and John on a field visit after the meeting.

Jo Widdicombe; ‘Bee Improvement – what works for me’ and ‘Taking it further’.

By John Durkacz
Jo Widdicombe provided two talks at our annual meeting, both full of sound practical advice on how we can work to improve our bees in a sustainable way and to encourage beekeepers to move away from importation of unsuitable colonies.
[Continue reading the full article on our website.]

Queen Introduction

Abstracts from articles written by Bernard Mӧbus, and compiled by John Durkacz

The new season will soon be with us and hopefully the weather will be kind and new queens will be mated well and ready for introducing to replace old queens or head new colonies. Bernhard Mӧbus, Senior Beekeeping Advisor at Craibstone (Scottish Agricultural Colleges), wrote a series of excellent articles in the journal of the beekeeping advisory service. These abstracts are from the ‘Winter 89 No.11’ edition and are reproduced with the permission Graeme Sharpe, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). Bernhard strongly advocated the use of locally bred queens and bees and did much to support Scottish beekeepers by rearing queens from suitable native colonies in Aberdeenshire. This article has been selected and adapted for the Scottish Native Honey Bee Society newsletter by John Durkacz.

[Continue reading the full article on our website]

Chocolate Mining Bees

By Gavin Ramsay and Justine Swinney
In early Spring, we often receive enquiries about potential sightings of native Scottish honey bees.  In most cases, these are in fact chocolate mining bees, Andrena scotica, which are dark, similar in size to honey bees and resemble them closely.  Here are some tips for differentiating between the two.  (Sadly, gathering chocolate is not one of the distinguishing characteristics!)
Andrena scotica - photo by Gavin Ramsay
There are over 60 Andrena species in the UK. They are solitary bees, which live in all sorts of habitats.  Andrena scotica seems to be quite happy to live alongside humans and they are typically seen going into holes in the ground or low down in walls with crumbly mortar and cavities.  Honey bees are very reluctant to nest at this height and normally make nests in substantial cavities at height.

Chocolate Mining Bees may be seen in relatively large numbers, which may seem surprising for a solitary bee, but they nest in aggregations, often sharing single entrances and making their own small chambers off the main tunnel.  
They appear in mid-April and are mostly gone by late May.  In that time, they mate, clear and provision their nests with pollen and lay eggs for the next generation.  At any time and particularly later on during this period they may explore inside buildings.
Andrena scotica - photo by Gavin Ramsay
The key features that discriminate Andrena scotica from the native Scottish honey bee are:
  • A larger, darker head
  • Antennae that tend to curve rather than being kinked
  • Eyes without hairs
  • Pollen collecting structures on the hind legs, composed of hairs rather than corbiculae (the flat segment of honey bees)
    • This distinction is common to all Andrena species, but the crucial feature of Andrena scotica is that some of these hairs are white
  • They nest low down in burrows
Although female Andrena mining bees do have a sting, they are not aggressive and their stings are weak, so people in their vicinity are not at risk.  Their season is relatively short and we always recommend that you try to enjoy their presence and wait a few weeks for the adults to complete their life cycle.
Andrena scotica - photo by Justine Swinney
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