Happy Birthday Welsh Beekeepers Association

This year sees the 75th Anniversary of the Welsh Beekeepers Association (WBKA). To celebrate beekeepers from Wales, Ireland, Somerset, Devon, Dover, Australia and goodness knows where else descended on Aberystwyth University for a long weekend of talks and workshops. One of the first ever meetings of the WBKA was a Summer School in Aberystwyth: in a funny way we came home.

The university did us proud. The venues were good (although a few grumbled about the hill), the conference dinner an evening to remember for all the right reasons and the staff always cheerful and helpful, they seemed really pleased to have us there.

A Plethora of Professors*

I’ll happily admit one of the main reasons I booked was the opportunity to listen to Prof Tom Seeley without having to change continents. His book, Honeybee Democracy, is one of my favourites and after listening to him speak I’ll be tracking down some of his other works. I hoped he was a good a speaker as he is a writer and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed — with four talks in three days I think he was going for some sort of world record. My favourite was How a honey bee swarm chooses a new home, with incredible research on how a swarm finds and chooses a new nest site with the bees dancing to “vote” for a location. I think we should do that for elections, it would make things much more entertaining. I also found the insights into natural hive density and how unmanaged honey bees survive varroa fascinating. I’ve been concerned about the density of hives in Cardiff city centre for a while — Tom has inspired me to investigate further and I’ll blog about what I discover.

It was my pleasure to chair Prof Francis Ratnieks in a session on the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Wellbeing: Varroa. His research into hygienic behaviour in honey bees is ground breaking; this alongside sessions on locally adapted as well as native bees shows the range of (occasionally contentious) debates on honey bee genetics within the beekeeping community. Prof Ratnieks also showed how effective oxalic acid sublimation during the winter is for varroa control and the importance of doing so when there’s no brood in the hive. I can’t understate how useful I found this: it’s changed the way we’ll manage varroa in our apiary. It’s one thing to read the evidence but quite another when things are explained to you. I’m told his second talk on the best garden plants for honey bees was equally useful.

To complete a hat-trick of Professors we also heard Prof Robert Pickard, president of my Association. He showed how the honey bee evolved and how this in turn has influenced other species and organisms. His insights into the honey bee brain were fascinating: only honey bees and humans are capable of giving complex navigational instructions (to their own species of course). Proportional to the size of the body, the brain of honey bees and humans occupies the same volume. If you win anything on a pub quiz thanks to that nugget you can credit me.

Even more talks and workshops

Irene Power of South Tipperary Beekeepers Association gave a talk on Efficient Beekeeping which was interesting for its application of project management techniques and lessons from industry to beekeeping, particularly planning ahead and being ready for the changing requirements of the bees and the season. Unfortunately due to the house move I hadn’t prepared as well as I’d like for this season, these tips will help me get ready for next year.

I enjoyed the session with the National Library of Wales. The staff had searched the huge collection for bee-related items. Giving a presentation on it to a group of subject specialists must be daunting but they did brilliantly. They also put on a small exhibition of selected items from the Eva Crane Archive, a fascinating and privileged view of the early days of IBRA and this amazing lady.

Pete attended the cosmetics workshop by Catherine Clark of Honey Bee Beautiful. He made some great products, I’m a big fan of the lotion bar, and we plan to make some creams and lip balm for presents and our own use.

Margaret Ginman of the Bee Farmers Association spoke about climbing the beekeeping ladder (no it’s not sticky before you ask); basically how to turn a hobby into a living. I was impressed at the level of support available to Association members on all aspects of bee farming as well as their apprenticeship scheme focusing on supporting and developing the next generation.

The next one?

Well done WBKA on a great event. The mix of topics, talks and workshops was excellent and I doubt I’m the only one who’s learnt a thing or three. I overheard the greatest compliment an event like this can get: there was too much to choose from! While I appreciate the amount of work that goes into something like this I really hope the next one is before WBKA’s centenary.

Evidence for beekeeping goes back thousands of years yet this most traditional of crafts never stands still: research continues and there’s always more to learn from the best teachers of all — the bees. thank you WBKA for the opportunity to explore it further and please do it again sometime soon.

* Apparently one of the collective nouns is a Pomposity of Professors but that sounds a bit rude.

Cover photo: Gerallt / 17944 images/Pixabay, CC0.

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