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Blighty's black honeybee comes in from the cold

Co-op invests £10,000 in Plan Bee

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Britain's native black honeybee could be "key to reversing the decline in the UK's honeybee population" - more than 100 years since Victorian apiarists rejected it for being too lazy and aggressive.

That's according to a Co-operative supermarket-backed study by the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders' Association (Bibba), which says the larger body and thicker hair of Apis mellifera mellifera could help it survive the kind of inclement weather which - along with varroa mite, insecticides, Colony Collapse Disorder, mobile phone radiation, fungus (take your pick, according to taste) - has provoked a dramatic decline in honeybee populations over recent years.

The Telegraph notes that the majority of Britain's estimated 274,000 hives are inhabited by subspecies from Italy and eastern Europe - more productive but possibly not well suited to extended periods of atrocious British weather.

Cue the suggestion that our own honeybee should be brought in from the cold. Paul Monaghan, the Co-op's head of social goals, said: "The hardy native black honeybee has had a bad press over the years, but it may hold the key to reversing the decline in the UK's honeybee population

"There are isolated populations of the native black bee dotted around the country and we want to help Bibba to confirm these and map these populations.

"We would also like to help to develop a breeding programme that would increase the number of native colonies and hopefully help reduce the losses experienced in recent years."

The Co-op has injected £10,000 into black honeybee research as part of its 10-point Plan Bee, claiming that "with careful selection, they are good-tempered and good honey-producers".

Sussex University's Department of Biological and Ecological Science, meanwhile, is conducting a £100,000 parallel research programme aimed at breeding black honeybees more resistant to disease, the Independent reports.

The department's Norman Carreck said remaining populations were believed to exist in western British Isles, Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and he welcomed Bibba's plan to pinpoint these.

Beekeepers who want to get involved and "think they have native or near-native black honeybees are asked to send samples to Bibba to test their origins". ®

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