Oxford Bees

The value of a feral colony

The value of a feral colony

Submitted by will on Fri, 30/03/2018 - 19:13

People value things more when other people value them. Price is a useful proxy for judging what other people value, but price reflects usefulness and abundance and status and cultural history.

It takes experience and time to learn the value of that which is abundant, cheap or free. It takes no time to be influenced by someone.

I value feral bee colonies. Established feral colonies are where natural selection is allowed to happen. Established feral colonies are survivors.

Bee Keepers in England have valued the Italian strains for decades, particularly those which were selectively bred from 'Italian' stock at Buckfast Abbey: the Buckfast Bee. Professional and mainstream bee keepers value the Buckfast Bee because it is easy to manage and produces lots of honey. It's a product of modern agricultural thinking.

Honey bees now face new challenges: new invasive species; new pests; invigorated diseases; changing land use leading to less forage, or seasonal variability in the amounts of forage; new pesticides.

The Varroa mite is a significant challenge. It is a pest which was in balance with its' original host, the Asian Honey Bee (Apis Cerana). The move to the Western Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) changed the mite's life-cycle so that it now infests worker brood as well as Drone. This has increased its' virulence. The mite has also super-charged existing viral diseases -- particularly Deformed Wing Virus which is implicated in the increasing number of failing colonies (Colony Collapse Disorder). The Varroa mite is a parasite which is out of balance with its' host, the Western Honey Bee.

The popular Buckfast Bee does not cope well with Varroa.

Feral colonies are probably either descended from, or related to Buckfasts. What sets ferals apart is that they have interbred freely and been subject to natural selection. Newly escaped colonies which cannot cope with the new challenges will die within 2 or 3 seasons. My best survivor colonies have been untreated for at least 5 seasons.

Oxfordshire is unlikely to be the place where Western Honey Bees evolve a resistance to Varroa. Evolution is not that convenient. Oxfordshire can be a place where natural selection is allowed so that the bees can reach a survivable balance with Varroa. My low intervention approach is intended to support that.