The Buckfast Bee is named after Buckfast Abbey in Devon where it was first bred by famous bee breeder Brother Adam.
Brother Adam (Karl Kehrle 1898-1996) came to Buckfast Abbey from Germany at the age of 12 and began to assist the beekeeper. In 1916, 30 of the 46 beehives at the Abbey were wiped out by Isle of Wight disease, now recognised as Acarine – another parasitic mite which moves in and occupies the windpipes of bees.
Brother Adam began to repopulate the Abbey’s hives using the existing bees which were a mixture of Italian or Italian x English dark native bees. He brought in more Italian bees and also travelled 100,000 miles across Europe and North Africa in search of desirable strains of bees to improve his Buckfasts using an isolated mating station on Dartmoor.
What resulted was a hybrid bee which had many very good qualities. It seems likely that many of these qualities were due to the hybrid vigour of first generation crosses – and which cannot therefore be reliably passed on to subsequent generations. As a result, users of Buckfast bees must rely on breeders to requeen their bees at regular intervals otherwise their Buckfasts will simply out cross with native stocks resulting in ‘mongrel bees’ which have, at best, mixed characteristics and are often very aggressive.
Because of its mixed ancestry and provenance the Buckfast bee is very variable in appearance so I’m uneasy about supplying a photo. However what they all do seem to have is one or two orange bands on the abdomen but they are not so light coloured as the pure Italian races.
Below is a picture from Wikipedia of Buckfast bees. It’s possible that they are but they seem a bit on the light side to me. More interesting is that two of the bees seen here are markedly darker than their sisters which suggests that their mother, however ‘pure’ has mated with a mixture of drones.
What any hybrid bee does not have in the real world is any reliability when bred from and subsequent generations will always be a mixed bag. Brother Adam was working in a different world, most of Britain’s bees had been killed by Acarine and Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus (CBPV) also known as Isle of Wight Disease and it would have been much easier in those days to control the mating of queens. Such control is seldom possible here and now.
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Good article on the Buckfast bee here by Roger Patterson on Dave Cushman’s website http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/buckfast.html
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