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  • The History of the Buckfast Bee

  • General Q&A, Bee chat and only Bee chat please
General Q&A, Bee chat and only Bee chat please
 #9256  by NigelP
 15 Oct 2020, 16:10
I'm fed up with people misunderstanding Buckfast bees and various lines that are kept going by many dedicated Buckfast bee breeders. Their crosses can all be followed, as each breeder has to record them and make them publicly available.
Part of the misunderstanding is due to their being breeders using isolated mating stations, islands II etc to ensure their crosses are between set Buckfast Lines such as, Anatolica Breeder, Caucasica Breeder, Carpatica-combination Breeder, Mellifera (black-brown) Breeder and many others. These guys breed Buckfast with Buckfast. Most are in other parts of Europe as few isolated mating stations in the UK.
If you want one their queens it will cost you over a £150 pounds. These are what I used to breed my queens from. So the progeny of these queens in my area are open mated and although the 1st generation progeny are all pure Buckfast the sperm those queens are now carrying is mainly mongrel. These are what I call F1.
These are the type of queens many UK breeders are selling you. They buy in Island mated queens and open mate them....these are usually £35-50 a pop and are what most beekeepers buy in, often from dodgy dealers importing in large numbers from abroad..

Hopefully that has explained that part.

Next post is going to be lengthy as I'm going to share with you the potted history of Brother Adam and the Buckfast bee. As you will see the original cross was Lingusta/Amm and further Amm (from France) was introduced into the line in 1930. Anyone claiming Amm is not a part of the Buckfast genome should save their breath for cooling their porridge.
Lots of lines were produced before getting crossed back into the main Buckfast line. It is some of these lines that exist today and are maintained by many of the "proper" Buckfast breeders that they are using to advance the Buckfast heritage . This also what leads to a lot of the confusion in thinking Buckfast is only one type of bee. There are many Buckfast lines with different characteristics, just as there are many mongrel bees in the UK with different characteristics. Or any other race of bee come to think of it. Brother Adam never finished producing the ideal Buckfast, this is left to the dedicated breeders of today.
Last edited by NigelP on 15 Oct 2020, 17:38, edited 5 times in total.
 #9257  by NigelP
 15 Oct 2020, 16:14
Grab a cup of tea and expect a lengthy read here. :D


March 1910
He enters the benedictine monastery, Buckfast Abbey
The abbey, rebuilt in 1882, owns an apiary with a majority of hives of British dark bee stock.

1913 The acarine disease (tracheal mite), coming from the Isle of Wight reaches the U.K. and decimates the bee populations in the area.
Brother Adam, for health reason, is chosen as Brother Columban's assistant in the monastery's apiary. In fall, the County apicultural inspector predicts the total extermination of the bees for the coming spring.
Inspired by his own observations of foreign strains resistance to acarine disease, he imagines the first sketch of what will become the Buckfast Bee That was really a general disaster. In the monastery's apiary, 16 colonies out of 46 survive and these are populated with A. m. carnica and ligustica. All the native bees had died.
First step in the Buckfast stock by crossing : brown ligustica x drones of the vanished British bee.
The apiary is now 100 hives strong by late fall.
Brother Columban steps down and Brother Adam is in full charge of the apiary on September 1st.
He is inspired by Prof. Armbuster's Bienenzüchtungskunde [Bee breeding, a science, an art !], just published (1919) First attempts of crossing F1 with A. m. cypria.
He realises that bee drifting is the result of the hives' alignment. The hives are arranged in groups of four with their entrances facing cardinal points.
He's convinced that queens must have enough laying area, without any barrier. This summer, he modified half of his British standard frames hives (2 supers of 10 frames) into Dadant 12 frames.
He established his famous mating station on Dartmoor. It is a model of isolation and allows desired selective crossings.
It is still operating today. In June-July the mating station is fully occupied with 520 mating nucs on Dadant half frames. These nucs winter on the spot so that the queens undergo a severe control before being introduced the coming March into the 320 production hives.
He designs and improves a new combination. Crossing a French queen from S-W of Paris with drones from the Buckfast stock. Later, this combination was considered very noteworthy.
At this time, all the production populations are on Dadant 12 frames hives, with a comfortable brood nest.
After 10 years of severe selection, Brother Adam decides to introduce a new combination in the Buckfast stock The Buckfast stock receives the above new combination.
Collaboration with Dr. O. Mackenson, one of the discoverers of instrumental insemination (I.I.). The I.I. is performed at Buckfast for selected queens.
He undertakes his first research travel in Europe : to France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Sicily and Germany. Bee watching on the entire old continent, in their natural biotope, in their original environment, allows him to assess their qualities, to choose on the spot, specimens which will be tested in the Dartmoor climate before an (eventual) incorporation into the Buckfast stock.
For example ...
Then goes to Algeria, Israël, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, Slovenia and the Ligurian Alps. Crossing with the A. m. cecropia
And then to Turkey and Aegean islands.
In the former Yugoslavia.
He introduces into his main stock a new combination of Greek origin.
His trips continue to Spain and Portugal. The Buckfast stock receives the above crossing, clearly less aggressive and with less swarming behavior than the basic stock.
The Buckfast Bee is enriched with a cross of A. m. anatolia x buckfast stock, a new crossing which will be tested for many years.
Travels through Morocco, Turkey, Greece, former Yugoslavia, Egypt and Libya.
He is chosen as a council member of the Bee Research Association (future IBRA)
He incorporates into the main Buckfast stock a new combination of anatolian origin. The above combination, more resistant and thrifty, is definitively incorporated into the Buckfast stock.
Brother Adam becomes an IBRA Vice-President. The IBRA council, which chose him, points out that he does not ask admission, probably because he is one of the best known beekeepers in the world.
Travels continue, returning to Turkey, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia
On June 16th, Brother Adam has been created an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
On May 13th, he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz in the German Federal Republic.
Still searching, in Morocco, then in Greece.
Returning to Greece, to the peninsula of Mount Athos - The Holy Mountain. Beginning of tests with the new very promising combination with the old Macedonian Athos bee.
Travel in Greece and to the island of Crete.
Goes to the US. to control and correct the Buckfast breeding program, which was diverging, if not failing.
1984 to 1995 to be complete

On October 2nd, Brother Adam was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of his services to beekeeping by the Faculty of Agriculture, Uppsala University, Sweden. The news reaches him during his travel in Africa in search of the scutellata and the monticola bee (Kilimanjaro mountains in Tanzania and Kenya).
This recognition deeply moves him for it is for him the official mark of the scientific nature of his research. Beginning of tests with scutellata and monticola bees.

On the morning of 13 July, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, in recognition of his services to beekeeping by the Faculty of Agriculture, Exeter University (Devon, UK). See the presentation oration by Prof. Michael J. Swanton. .
February 2d.. Compelled resignation by the new abbot David Charlesworth who refuses to award the nomination of a new technical assistant Michael van der Zee.
The honey flow is so poor that Brother Adam is deprived of his daily spoonful of honey.
Deeply hurt, this 94 year old man spends summer and fall in his native area, Mittelbiberach, with his niece Maria Kehrle. Abbey apiary's harvest is extremely poor: some 3000 pounds for the 320 production hives.
Faithfull to his monastic obligations, Brother Adam, the oldest member of the monastic community, not even at Buckfast, but for the whole St. Benoit Order (O.S.B.), comes back to Buckfast Abbey for a sadful life of isolation , in the indifference of the other monks. The responsibility of one of the greatest bee genetics bank is left to Brother Leo, a retired abbot, 70 years old, without any knowledge in bee rearing.
The job lands on Peter Donovan, former Brother Adam's assistant.
Anxiety amongst numerous Buckfast bee breeders
Brother Adam is retired, he's frail as always but very alert. He is no longer in charge of the beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey. He lives quietly in a rest house, very near, down the road The Abbey beekeeping is managed by Peter Donovan, who is not a monk but has worked with the bees at Buckfast for about 40 years himself as Brother Adam's apiary manager. Peter has asked a few local beekeepers to help out with some routine management this season.
(from Glyn Davies, Ashburton, Devon, UK)
1996, September 1
Peter Donovan, who worked closely with Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey, passes on the message on the net: Brother Adam died on this September 1, aged 98. Loaded by the genes he incorporated in His Honeybee as well as The Methods he recommended will survive for ever.
September 7th
A full abbey church at Buckfast Abbey said a final good-bye to Brother Adam. All participants in the funeral ceremony paid tribute to one of the greatest personalities within beekeeping history.
An era within beekeeping came to an end.

 #9260  by Chrisbarlow
 15 Oct 2020, 17:45
An interesting read. Cheers Nigel
 #9265  by Bobbysbees
 15 Oct 2020, 20:50
Very interesting read. I found a short series of films on youtube covering some of Brother Adam's work and life its well worth a watch.
Titled "The Monk and the Honeybee"
Some great footage and remarks on his African travels.
 #14455  by MickBBKA
 19 Jun 2024, 03:14
That is a fantastic post Nigel and very interesting. I suppose the really big question is 'what is a Buckfast bee'. The main fact is it is a mongrel like most other bees given a pedigree status. I see so called 'Buckfast Bees'' for sale in central America and all over the world. How far and how many mating's and generations are they removed from Brother Adams original pure bred mongrels ? I know you have a supply of very good strains of bees from isolated sources but every man and his dog is selling Buckfast bees on the internet and even in the BBKA magazine.
This week there has been found a massive outbreak of EFD in Guisborough not far from me or you. Its very rare for this to happen in our area and I no doubt believe it will be a result of some person buying bees from outside the area thinking they will be better than ours.
If I have to have 30+ colonies destroyed because someone thought 'Buckfast Bees' were better than their local mongrels will put me out of business. Beekeepers have to think not just about our personal gain but about the effect we have on surrounding beekeepers.
 #14458  by NigelP
 19 Jun 2024, 08:15
Mick, there is a low level of EFB bacteria in most hives. In the majority of cases the bees are healthy enough that it doesn't have any effect. However when colonies are stressed, or weak or not fit then it can rear its ugly head. Nothing to do with imports, although this fallacy gets repeated over and over again as a reason to not import bees. If there was any truth in it then there would be 1000's of cases every year. Bee imports are huge!
Most Buckfast sold are F1's. Breeders buy Island mated queens and breed from them. In most cases it's buyer beware.... There are several "lines" of Buckfast bees that are bred to remain the same as Brother Adam left them by the professional breeders.
 #14462  by MickBBKA
 20 Jun 2024, 23:03
I replied on the other post 'who mentioned imports' ?
I never did, I said bees from outside the area. There is lots of foulbrood down South and I presume that its probably come in with a nuc or colony from a supplier elswhere in the country. We rarely see it in this area despite having the worst weather stressing our bees in the country.
I also presume queens bought in from outside the country would have a vetinary health check or is that wishful thinking ? If they don't then that is crazy.
 #14463  by NigelP
 21 Jun 2024, 07:52
Yup, the legal imports have to have a vetinarian certificate stating they come from an EFB/AFB free zone.