Border Bees Diary

Diary of a Beekeeper in the Scottish Borders

Beekeeping in the Scottish Borders

Posted by borderglider on May 11, 2008

May 11th 2008

I have kept bees for eight years now – so I am no longer ‘a beginner’ – but many local beekeepers have forty years or more experience, so I am still a long way from being an ‘expert’.  I keep the local ‘native’ bee – i,e, British Black bees – Apis Mellifera Mellifera – rather than using imported Italian, Carniolan (Slovenian) bees.

The Merry Month of May in the beehive

Nurse Bees & Sealed Worker Cells during Oilseed Rape Season

My bees went into the winter of 2007 with five hives – all in good heart and all with first-year-queens (British blacks – or ‘local stock’. The bees were treated for varroa with Apistan strips in September and after Christmas I dosed them with Oxalic Acid – to guard against varroa gaining chemical resistance. I also tacked heavy duty plastic ‘skirts’ around the hives to shed the rain and wind – using builders damp-proof-membrane – so I thought everything had been taken care of.

When I last peeked into the hives – after Christmas – there were healthy populations of bees in all five hives and plenty of winter stores to see them through the cold months. When I revisited the hives in April I was shocked to discover that one of the hives was dead and another two were queenless – with only a small population of bees surviving.


The main possible causes noted by the experts seem to be:

1. Varroa parasites and viruses

2. Nosema – dysentery

3. Prolonged cold

4. Accumulation of pesticides in stored food supplies

The general picture that is emerging throughout the UK is that there have been very heavy losses in some areas – lighter losses in others. East Lothian BKA conducted a survey which revealed 10% losses on average. Morayshire BKA reported losses in the 40-50% zone and in one case 12 out of 12 hives were lost.

My own hives are all Open Mesh Floors; all were treated for Varroa (Apistan) in September and seemed in vigorous good health. They were treated with oxalic acid using 3% solution and no more than 5 mls of solution per seam of bees – in early January. The three dead or severely depleted hives were discovered in mid April and I have been nursing my two remaining queenright colonies in the hope of breeding new queens at the end of May.

British Black Queen/em>

I took this photo of my best remaining queen on May 10th. Did not see the varroa mites through the veil while inspecting the hive, but did notice them on the enlarged photo today. Very depressing.


5 Responses to “Beekeeping in the Scottish Borders”

  1. Eric McArthur said


    There is a deal going down in the craft a t present – what with Patersons’ investigations on queen failure: either to mate, or even survive the pre emerging stage in the cell. Even queen which appear to have mated produce colonies which do not thrive and eventually crash. The systemic pesticide issue, especially the imidacloprid ‘family’ is now high on the agenda. However there is a situation that up till now has been neglected and it is not high tech but basic nuts and bolts stuff!
    Consider the beekeeper who moderately successful at producing quees, despite Paterson’s findings, but who at the end of the active season has a dilemma – he has more stocks than he can overwinter successfully
    bearing in mind that it is only sensible to overwinter the number of colonies which the beekeeper can feed well. If beekeepers had access to economically priced sugar via perhaps a voucher scheme more colonies could be overwintered and thus at a stroke by having increased colony numbers overwintering the losses however high would hopefully overtime produce more surviving colonies year on year. The key is economically priced sugar which would encourage beekeepers to inccrease their colony numbers. A concerted effort collectively by UK beekeepers might just get a result.

    Eric McAr, Dalmuir SCotland.thur

  2. John Salt said

    Afternoon Graham
    Picked up your site from the BBKA forum … good work!
    May I suggest you get your links to open up in a new page by inserting … target=”_blank” into your html … ie


    This will open up a new page each time a link is clicked and always brings you back to your original page when you “close this window”

    bee good

  3. Nick said

    I must say I am disheartened by the continued loss of bee colonies despite the fact that those keepers losing them seem to be following recommended good practice. Its many years since I kept bees, thankfully before all the latest problems and I am looking to get back to keeping them again as I now have more time to devote to the craft.

    The question is should I begin again, if as so many seem to be reporting losses during the winter, problems of feeding, varroa, etc are increasing? Comments welcome.


    • Hi Nick,
      Don’t be disheartened by any means and DO get back into – it is still a wonderful way of getting close to Nature. Every time I visit my bees I am aware of what a privilege it is to be able to share their world for a few hours. Varroa control is getting more routine these days – but pesticides seem to be the biggest threat – along with imports of alien bees, which bring further possible parasites and viruses.

  4. Hello..I wonder if this site is still active and if any beekeeper is reading it? I am no beekeeper..but have noticed that honey bees, once common in my garden ( 1 mile from Duns) are now completely absent. This seems a catastrophy..there are plenty of bumble bees but no honey bees..I haven’t seen one for a couple of years.
    I se hives on the Lammermuirs that appear active..and a row near Gavinton, seem to be abandoned now. Is this all down to varroa?
    Butterfly numbers also seem to be in this time, in years past, my lilac would have been visited by peacocks and painted ladies. But perhaps there is more summer to come and the butterflies will appear in the next month or two
    I have a small paddock and a wee wood within my 3/4 acre site.
    My garden is on the wild side and very quiet..I have often thought I would be happy to invite a beekeeper to place hives in a corner, if that would be useful
    If this would be of interest to any local beekeeper, I would be happy to meet up and make arrangements

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