There’s a buzz going on at Abberton Reservoir in Essex, as Britain’s black honey bees, a species which was once thought to be extinct, are being re-introduced to the area.

Essex & Suffolk Water is working in partnership with the Essex Wildlife Trust and the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA) on an innovative project to establish native black bees at the reservoir. They are also aiming to establish colonies in the surrounding area to develop a thriving sustainable population of native bees.


The black honey bee was thought to have been completely wiped out in the early 1900s, but it has recently been discovered that they still exist in parts of the UK.


The black honey bee is native to Britain and is ideally suited to the climate. They live in smaller colonies than non-native honey bees and fly at lower temperatures, making them more successful in foraging for food and mating. This gives them a genetic edge over non-native honey bees.


Helen Jacobs, Senior Conservation Advisor for Essex & Suffolk Water said: “We’re delighted to have the British black bee at Abberton and to be supporting the expansion of the species.


“The British black bee is well suited to our climate, so encouraging its use among local beekeepers will bring about wider benefits for local agriculture and wildlife, which relies on honey bee pollination.”


Nick Bentham-Green, Chairman of BIBBA said: We are delighted to be working with our partners Essex and Suffolk Water, Essex Wildlife Trust and local beekeepers in what is a really great initiative. This will show what can be achieved locally for the conservation and preservation of the dark European honey bee, thought once to be extinct in the UK.


“Honeybees face an uphill struggle for survival, most notably from the thousands of bees that are imported every year, and with them pests and diseases, so a scheme such as this, which seeks to breed and improve local bees, has to be a significant step in the right direction. It will also be a great educational resource in helping local beekeepers raise their own bees.”


Jo Wray, Senior Warden & Team Leader for Essex Wildlife Trust said: "We are excited to be involved in this project and are looking forward to getting offspring from the Queen bees to introduce these into our reserve hives. Our nature reserve is covered in wildflowers providing ample opportunity and habitat for the black bees to forage and collect pollen. We very much look forward to expanding this project with all of the partners and local bee keepers in the area."


Three hives have been introduced at Abberton Reservoir which will be populated with native black queen bees obtained from a reputable source. These mother queens will produce more native queen bees, which will in turn be provided to local beekeepers so that colonies can be established in the surrounding area.


Abberton Reservoir is well situated to support this project as it is far enough away from other hives to prevent inter-breeding with other non-native bees, which will ensure the purity of the bees being bred.


Local beekeepers will be encouraged to use British black bees to improve their traits, and will be offered to training to create their own queen bees, meaning they can rely less on importing non-native bees to the area.