News from Paignton Zoo Environmental Park
Zoo makes a bee-line for local species
A Devon conservation charity is helping to bring back a sub-species of bee thought to be virtually extinct in the UK since 1926.
Two colonies of Cornish black honey bees have arrived at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park.
The black bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) is native to the British Isles. After numbers crashed early in the 20th century due to disease, strains from Europe and beyond were introduced. Paignton Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “This bee is small, dark, tough and hairy and has survived in parts of Cornwall, Wales, the Western Isles and Ireland – it’s a real Celtic bee!”
An organisation called B4 (Bringing Back Black Bees), based in Cornwall, is working to reverse their decline. B4 wants to revive the flagging fortunes of the species and promote their benefits for modern bee keeping.
Beekeeper and retired police officer Gerry Stuart explained: “The black bee is hardy in winter, flies well even in cold weather, lives a relatively long time and can be disease-resistant. It is well-suited to the climate of the South West.”
Mike Bungard, Paignton Zoo’s Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates, said: “We wanted to introduce another invertebrate species into our collection and the black bee is ideal, because it is a native species that is in need of our help. Our role is to tell visitors about the black bee and what is being done to help it. The Paignton Zoo colony is one of the first outside Cornwall.”
A Community Interest Company has been formed to bring together the main groups interested in conserving the Cornish population of the black bee. Those involved include Andrew Brown, a dentist and organic smallholder from Cornwall, and Gerry Stuart, of the Torbay branch of the British Beekeeper’s Association, based at Cockington, who will take care of the colonies.
The hives have been placed in the Zoo’s giant tortoise paddock, where the bee flight path is safely above and away from visitors. Future plans may include a new public observation hive to help with education. Paignton Zoo Environmental Park is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 0844 474 2222. www.B4Project.co.uk.
Philip Knowling, Paignton Zoo Environmental Park Press Officer, 01803 697568
Paignton Zoo is a member of the British & Irish Association of Zoos & Aquariums (BIAZA). BIAZA represents its member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums. For further information please telephone 020 1449 6351.