The Project

The Aims of the Project

  • To save the remnant population of the native Apis mellifera mellifera (AMM) (Black Honey Bee) in Cornwall.

The Black Honey Bee was the original bee of the British Isles. Sadly, due to the

introgression of genes from introduced foreign subspecies, its genetic presence has

been diluted.  There is a preference, certainly in the majority of Cornish bee keepers, for the dark bee.


Cornwall appears to be relatively rich in stocks of AMM, and we

will tap into this resource.

  • To improve the disease resistance in our study apiaries.
  • To generate and distribute a sustainable population to new and established bee keepers in the South West peninsula and educate these beekeepers, and the public, in the benefits of breeding AMM.
  • Reduce our reliance on imported honeybees, making honey production and pollination more sustainable and less susceptible to imported diseases.
  • To develop local knowledge through involvement of communities across the South West.
  • To promote the benefits of saving the remnant population of the native AMM (Black Honey Bee)

The rationale for the project

  • Black bees are worthy of saving because they are thrifty, non-prolific, and long-lived and fly at lower temperatures, in light rain and drizzle and in higher winds. Native bees also have several key physiological and colony adaptations to living in fluctuating climatic conditions.
  • They are worthy of saving because they are more suited to the environment of the South West peninsula than imported or hybridised bees and also have far greater disease tolerance. The native bee overwinters in a much tighter cluster than the Italian bee and uses fewer stores to maintain the cluster temperature. This means that less honey has to be left for the bees or less sugar has to be provided for them, making them an easier bee to keep as well as being more economical for the beekeeper.

2 Why the Project is needed

  • To introduce sustainability and stability in the native AMM populations, so that we can benefit from their maritime adaptation and their behavioural disease resistance.
  • To enable the distribution of a sustainable population to new and established bee keepers in the South West peninsula and educate these beekeepers, in the benefits of breeding AMM.
  • To assist the bee keeping population in overcoming the difficulties of breeding AMM, compared to the more prolific imported subspecies.
  • Because Black bees are an important part of our heritage and are being diluted by the introgression of genes from exogenous subspecies.
  • Because Cornwall has been shown to have pockets of AMMs; we need to identify the remnants of the population, and using selective breeding programmes, produce, as near as possible, genetic purity and stability.
  • And there is, right now, widespread public interest in the plight of the bee population, and a genuine thirst for solutions to this kind of problem.

3 How will the Project be implemented?

  • Colonies of honey bees including possible feral colonies, within the South West Peninsula, will be surveyed to ascertain the distribution and quality of the AMM population. This will be implemented by funding a six year part time PhD and will include collaboration with other researchers outside our area studying AMM populations. Help will be given by the two Bee Improvement Groups: Cornwall Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Group and the Bee Improvement Programme for Cornwall – all members’ colonies will be available to both Ph.D. students.
  • The project will involve sampling DNA from the remnant population of Cornish, AMM and correlating the genotype/DNA profiles of the bees with published wing morphometric analyses and DNA markers. The study will establish the viability of a rapid and precise technique to ascertain relative genotypic purity in the field,and levels of introgression from other species?
  • Using the information gained from the research project, B4 will use selective breeding and artificial insemination programmes to build stocks of Cornish AMM.
  • B4 will educate and inform, both beekeepers and the general public of the benefits of AMM, to promote increasing numbers of colonies and greater use of their products. We will use Paignton Zoo, the Eden Project and the Heligan Gardens as the interface between the research platform and the public.
  • We will involve a wide population of beekeepers in Cornwall in the conservation of the Cornish AMM population by supporting and supplying Cornish beekeepers with breeding stock of Cornish AMMa where appropriate and assisting them to identify and breed their own local strains.
  • We will provide provenance for the Cornish AMM and simplify it so that Cornish beekeepers can benefit in the same way that farmers benefit from pedigree status of native livestock.
  • We will provide a good starting point for research involving disease resistance. Disease resistance is known in the Cornish Dark Bee population and the bees’ ability to reduce the varroa populations of colonies has been identified. Selective breeding is under way to consolidate and develop such resistance so it becomes stable. This will help future-proof the bees against more exotic pests on the horizon. This is the subject of the second Ph.D.
  • We will publish research results and updates of progress.

8 What will the Project Produce?

  1. It will produce, as near as possible, pure genotypic samples of AMMs which have enhanced disease resistance/varroa tolerance.
  1. It will achieve, through visitor bee displays at The Eden Project, The Heligan Gardens and Paignton Zoo, 1,600,000 through-puts, thus more public awareness.


Eden has 1,000,000 visitors per year

Paignton has 400,000 visitors per year

Heligan has 200,000 visitors per year

Total foot fall 1,600,000

  1. The Web presence and its association with social media sites (YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) will inspire millions throughout the world, to become involved in locally based conservation projects.
  1. The overarching IT & web resource will have a larger impact on the public than the individual sites can attain independently.
  1. The B4 Project will instigate a paradigm shift in public attitude towards.
  • The decline of the bee population
  • The relevance that this decline has to our food production and general conservation efforts for the countryside
  • The importance of improving local honey bee populations to help address these problems.
  1. The Project Outcome will lead to the establishment of partner collaboration between The Eden Project, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Paignton Zoo, Plymouth University, Falmouth University/Exeter University and “grass roots” bee keepers.
  1. Collaboration between academic institutions, conservation groups, global & national research projects and through the extended partnership bring this directly to the general public as well as specialist interest groups e.g. bee keepers and food outlets wanting to promote, serve or sell locally produced and sustainable produce
  1. As a result of the collaboration, the concomitant shared learning will be expansive. The critical mass of the collective skills of the partners is a key strength of this programme.
  1. Bringing together potentially disconnected research projects and other initiatives will provide efficiencies, reduce duplication and enhance both projects. By clarifying the specific contributions of each of the partners will enable existing resources to be better focused and produce results quicker and coherently.


  1. Through its communication channels the project will also connect with linked projects globally and pull in this critical mass of research & expertise, as well as the opportunities for shared learning