Spring Convention report
Harrogate 7th to 10th March 2008Almost fifty members and partners gathered at The Cairn Hotel in Harrogate for this years Spring Convention. The Cairn is a large Edwardian hotel which is being refurbished to its former glory, with a very spacious and comfortable lounge / reception area which fitted in a committee meeting on Friday afternoon very well, saving us the cost of hiring a room. The rooms were comfortable, the food was very good and plentiful, and the staff were friendly (but not always too good at the English language).
After a short meeting of the delegates on Friday evening, Saturday was given over to lectures and business. Our first lecture was from member and BIBBA executive member Tom Robinson, discussing his involvement breeding the British black bee Apis mellifera mellifera in the York area. Worldwide very few areas are still populated by this bee. In Tasmania where there was a small population taken there during the period of colonisation, is being diluted by incoming bees. In Scotland, beefarmer Abrahams has a number of black bees on the island of Colonsay. (Those of us who went to Inverness will remember the oysters he brought as a taster, yum). Tom described his experience of trying to find a good strain of bee and how he worked towards the black British bee which seemed to give him everything he wanted – disease resistance, frugal over-wintering, and a decent honey crop in the environs of York. This was an interesting and entertaining tale with aspects that many of us could identify with, and started the day of on an easy-to-take note. Thanks, Tom, for your time and effort.Following a break, Giles Budge from the NBU then told us of molecular chemistry, viruses, EFB, and the research work that NBU is doing towards the identification of diseases. He also covered the problem of Nosema cerana. And made a specific point: do not treat prophylactically for Nosema sp. – first make sure that it is present. The treatment for both Nosema species is the same, Fumidil B, but as this is an antibiotic we must be very careful, first about both residues, and secondly about building up resistance. Giles’ talk required a great deal of attention but that was made easier by his deep knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, his work combined with a very impressive ability to make even the most abstruse scientific concepts understandable to his listeners. He has only been with the NBU a few months having taken over from Ruth and is obviously going to be a huge asset to the department.
After the lunch break, Professor Francis Ratnieks from West Sussex University, and late of Sheffield University spoke on research projects that have been carried out under his direction.
He gave an overview on his work at Sheffield University using Edale in the Peak district as a mating site to test how far and whether drones or queens would fly out of a valley to mate. His research did indicate that more than half of the drones came from the hives placed in Edale.
Further research on queen drifting indicated that 5% entered the wrong hive if the hives were placed 2 metres apart, the % reduced to 4% if the hives were 5 metres apart and 2% if the hives faced in different directions.
The next research was on queen acceptance into queenless colonies. Research using cages showed acceptance between 53% and 95% depending on the cage used. Trials using direct introduction, without cage, into a heavily smoked colonies that had been queenless for between 1 to 6 days, the acceptance rate increasing the longer the colony was queenless, ie 90% acceptance after 2 days and 100% acceptance after 6 days queenless. No one dared question how many queens he had used in these experiments. It sure is something we could try out back home.
Hygienic bees research was highlighted. A can with both ends cut out was screwed into comb containing sealed brood, liquid nitrogen was used to kill brood in the area covered by the can. The colonies were then evaluated for the number of dead brood removed. Using DNA tests the drones of hygienic bees can be used to inseminate queens to increase the number of hygienic bees in the colonies.
Another break to recover our breath, then pollination secretary Margaret Thomas gave an overview on the research project into PAs (Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids) in ragwort and borage honey done in 2005. These are the alkaloids that damage the liver of horses, etc. The research was commissioned by the Food Standards Agency after some articles in the media on possible PAs in honey. 24 hives were used in batches of four hives. Two batches were placed on fields of borage (Harlow and Feering in Essex) and 4 batches on fields of ragwort (Southend, near Guildford, near Ascot and Greenham Common). There were two control hives, one in our suburban garden and one at Hadleigh Castle near Southend. Unripe honey was collected every 10 days for analysis by Peter Martin for pollens, and LGC in Teddington, (the chemists), to check for PAs. At the end of flowering, 2 pound of ripe honey from each hive, all extracted separately, was collected and taken to LGC for analysis. The upshot was that although one sample of unripe ragwort contained PAs, but none in the final sample. One borage sample did contain a trace of PAs. The research will continue on the stored honeys. It is now up to the FSA to commission more research if they are concerned.
As usual, Margaret involved the audience : working out how to conduct research – choice of sites, times of year, preparation of hives, collection of samples were all discussed. The talk was peppered with amusing asides on dogs, picnics, insects attached to sticky tape, Margaret’s mum being arrested on Greenham Common and much more beside.
( Footnote : planting of borage is much reduced this year – the main buyers having turned to Chinese imports)
During the day some of the delegates, mostly partners, went out and about in Harrogate or further afield as an alternative to sitting listening to the speakers.
Then came the car-boot sale, where various items were traded.
After another good dinner a fairly short business meeting was held (see separate article)
Sunday was our day out. Off at nine with a full coach, we dropped a few ladies in York, where Tom Robinson and his wife Maureen – who is a qualified Town Guide - took them under their wings for a couple of hours to show them York. The ladies had a very interesting time and were able to indulge in some retail therapy in the afternoon. Thank you, Tom and Maureen, for your efforts for us. The rest of us went on to Mark Evamy’s honey-house, workshop and equipment store where we were all impressed by what he has achieved in the twelve years since he started beekeeping. Running 600-900 hives with very little help, he has a purpose-built honey house most of us only dream of. From the trailer with a boom-loader which he demonstrated (how easy it makes moving bees), to the semi-automatic extraction line, via the super trolleys, the Unimog, and the equipment all bought in directly from the USA ready-assembled, everything is designed to be as efficient as possible. All his honey is sold in bulk, so no bottling, labelling and marketing to worry about. Mark’s only complaint was that his Spinomel was not at all good at dealing with any honey showing the slightest granulation – but he intends to do something about that. Another lesson for us was the way he had contacts to supply off-cuts of ply and the interior walling of his honey house. Mark kindly provided refreshments on our arrival, so thanks to him for that but particularly for letting us see – and poke around – his exciting honey farm.
After a stop at a very nice pub for a bite to eat and/or drink, or perhaps a visit to the very good fish and chip shop over the road, we went to Steve Ryan’s new factory. Some of us had seen his set-up in 1997, but that did not prepare us for his new establishment. Here he prepares medicinal products for a very large supermarket’s own brand, a large health-food company, and of course his own brand, Bee Health. He produces many millions of tablets / capsules / pills every week. The standards are of the highest, and he has plans for expansion which probably should not be repeated for commercial reasons, so I won’t. Mixers, grinders, shakers, all of huge proportions, prepare the lotions and potions, then the encapsulating or tablet machines – each in its own room – prepare the end-results. There is a vast warehouse within which is a brand-new air-conditioning system protected from any errant fork-lifts by motorway-standard Armco crash barriers, and some wind-chimes high up. (They had us fooled until Steve explained that they were to warn a driver who approaches too closely).
Thanks to Steve, his daughter and other staff who took the time to show us around.
Once home, it was the last dinner then dancing or just listening to Shepherd’s Hey traditional English folk music band. Great fun, with Mike Chandler amazing us all with his skill on the three-hole pipe and tabor. He demonstrated quite convincingly that men can multi-task, and the icing on the cake was when the leader of the band gave us an enthralling and very accomplished demonstration of an English Morris jig as Mike played one of his tunes. Willie Robson provided an interlude of amusing solos and those who took to the dance floor demonstrated an excess of left feet exceeded only by sheer enthusiasm to join in and try the dances under the watchful eye of the caller.On Monday morning an extra to the usual convention was another visit, this time to the CSL. We visited the molecular science suite of laboratories, and the bee disease (conventional) laboratory, where we were given detailed descriptions of how everything (or a lot of it, anyway) worked. Understanding was much easier having had Giles’ talk on Saturday, but it was still very complex. One of the lessons that came across strongly was that the laboratories have an awful lot of work to do on all the problems that come to them from both Plant Health and outside, and bee diseases are just one aspect of this work. Since last year, however, a lot of effort has bee put in by Mike and Giles to ensure that bee diseases will get a much higher priority than heretofore, so there should be no more very long waits to hear what sort of problem we have. Thanks to Mike Brown, Giles, Selwyn, Ben and all the others at CSL who looked after us on the day.
We also discovered that The Cowan Collection (of historical bee-books, not the Sunday morning Radio 3 programme) is now housed for safety in the carefully controlled environment of the CSL library and may be inspected by prior arrangement with the NBU.Altogether an entertaining, educational and informative weekend which I hope that all who attended found worthwhile. John Howat and Margaret Thomas