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World-leading honeybee researcher Professor Tom Seeley from Cornel University in the United States recently honoured Colonsay’s black bee reserve with a two-day visit to study at first hand the behaviour of the native honeybee – Apis mellifera mellifera.
Prof Seeley also wanted to learn about the conservation work, breeding and management systems being carried out by the island beekeeper Andrew Abrahams.
Prof Seeley is no stranger to small, remote islands as for many years he used the island of Appledore, distant from the Maine coast, to carry out his groundbreaking research work. This research has helped tell many more of the secrets of the honeybee community and how their scouts seek out and choose suitable new nesting sites in the wild.
Importantly, there is clear debate and democratic decision-making among the bees as to the final choice and suitability of nest sites. The scouts then have the onerous task of directing and leading the swarm (many of which have never left the confines of their nest) to their new home.
Prof Seeley has followed in the footsteps of the Nobel prize-winner von Frisch, who decoded the wonderful honeybee dance language that allows nectar gatherers to exactly communicate good forage sources.
Years of researching honeybees in the wild has convinced Prof Seeley that honeybees become highly adapted to their local environment and are perfectly able to control the pests and diseases that are presently so damaging to worldwide managed populations. They have, after all, been around for nearly 50 million years.
He is a great advocate of using and conserving local honeybees. In a letter of appreciation of his visit to Colonsay he wrote: ‘The Isle of Colonsay is certainly important for its human history and culture, but to biologists it is even more important as a unique reserve in western Europe of a pure population of honeybees that are native to Scotland. I applaud you in establishing and maintaining the Colonsay and Oronsay black bee reserve.’