Hope to breed 'hardy' Welsh bee

Honey bee Bees are like humans and prefer sunny weather

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Bees that are resistant to disease and are better suited to the "challenging" Welsh climate are being bred as part of a project by Bangor University and a Ceredigion company.

Tropical Forest Products, based in Aberystwyth, said the aim was to breed a "hard, productive strain of bee".

Bees have declined because of disease and the recent wet summers in the UK.

"Newspapers are full of stories about bees dying from diseases in the UK and aboard," said David Wainwright from Tropical Forest Products.

He added most of the problems could be traced back to a mite which has invaded beehives.

'Natural resistance'

Mr Wainwright said that in Africa, where bees live wild in the forest, they have developed natural immunity to the mite.

"By treating our bees every year with anti-varroa medicines we have prevented the development of this natural resistance as we have perpetuated the survival of weak strains vulnerable to varroa," he said.

"The goal of the project will be to produce a hard, productive strain of bees resistant to varroa, and other diseases, without the use of medication," he added.

Dr Anita Malhotra, from Bangor University's Biological Sciences, said that like humans, bees prefer sunny weather.

"They aren't keen on the cool, wet and windy summers, that we've experienced recently, which see them hardly making enough honey for their own needs," she said.

Genetic information

"We've also seen problems with the queen bees, who have a small window of opportunity in which to mate - if conditions aren't right this can lead to later problems in the hive," she added.

Dr Malhotra will be supervising PhD student Ian Williams, who will be investigating the variation in characteristics present in colonies from a variety of sources in Wales.

This will provide genetic information which will be used to select the best colonies for the breeding programme.

"Breeding bees is not as straightforward as breeding sheep or cows," Dr Malhotra added.

"They are wild animals and while we have learned clever ways to manipulate them for our own benefit, we still have little control over what they do."

It was particularly important to ensure adequate genetic diversity to maintain healthy hives that are resistant to diseases and other environmental challenges, she added.

The work will be supported by money made on the sale of honey-based products, available through online grocer Abel and Cole.

The company's founder Keith Abel said it would be "too much to bear" if bees were no longer seen in UK gardens.

"When we heard about the plight of the honey bee and about this project to breed a hardy, disease resistant bee, we were glad to find there was something we could do to help," he added.

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