Cornish black bees

Everyone thought the British Black Bee had died out completely. Beekeepers replaced them with paler bees, the result of an extensive breeding programme by Brother Adam, a monk in charge of the apiary at Buckfast Abbey in South Devon. He used bees imported from southern Europe, crossbred with other strains. Buckfast bees are docile, prolific and hard workers, although less hardy than the English Black Bee. Beekeepers throughout the UK now use Buckfast bees, also known as ‘Italians’.


However, pockets of wild British Black Bees had survived in remote parts of the country, such as in Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and down here in Cornwall. As well as being better adapted to local conditions, they seem to be better at resisting the latest bee scourge, the varroa mite. Their numbers are increasing through breeding programmes here in Penwith and on the Lizard, aimed at returning the British Black Bee to the position it once held, as the best honeybee for the British climate.


The bees that took over the Steeple Woodlands’ log hive in 2019 are black bees. There is no guarantee that they are thoroughbred British Black Bees, as there has been much hybridisation between black bees and Italians over the years. However, we are hopeful that they may exhibit some of the characteristics of their ancestors.

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A modern hybrid Buckfast bee.
A modern hybrid Buckfast bee. Note the much lighter marking on the thorax of the Buckfast bee.
A Cornish black bee.
A Cornish black bee.