The Swindon HoneyBee

Conservation Group (SHCG)


Stanton Fitzwarren

In 2004 Swindon Beekeepers set out to find an answer to the varroa mite ... their original text is set out on the lower half of this page.
And now five years later ... an updated story ...


Please ... several people reading this page have subsequently contacted me in the hope I could collect a swarm for them ...
These web pages are hosted by a group of Beekeepers based in Moray, in the North of Scotland ... Many thanks  Great


  Ron recently had an article published in a local newspaper, to which he told me ... 'It was not a very good article, so for your interest I have attached something - We really do have Varroa Hygienic Bees - I wrote to give out to those who understood bees but kept it low-key for them that do not.'
'I now have bees which have developed a protective virus against DWV. I put this down to my many years of chemical-free beekeeping and taking no action whatsoever to reduce varroa numbers.'
'A regional bee inspector recently called me irresponsible for not treating? He could not accept that bees might develop the ability to co-exist.'
01 January 2016


Hygienic Behaviour Success (2008)

Hygienic Behaviour Success (2008)

Hygienic honey bees ... A short video of a dedicated Ron Hoskins as he tackles varroa mites.


Published on Oct 28, 2015
Finally, some scientific proof and reassurance that not putting chemicals inside your beehive is a good thing (as if we really needed it anyway)! Bees are able to 'immunise' themselves against viruses causes by varroa mites, and the blanket treatment of varroa miticides destroys their own abilities to heal themselves, and adapt


In 2003, my colleagues and I made the decision to stop the use of chemicals to control the Varroa mite. This decision came from the knowledge that most chemicals being used at that time were the major cause of queen failure due to their adverse effect on the viability of drone semen. Queens instrumentally inseminated by me were being superseded within a few weeks of introduction.

A new apiary of thirty colonies
At the time we had around eighty colonies between us which very quickly dwindled to around half that number despite the dusting with icing sugar. A new apiary of thirty colonies

It became obvious to us the surviving colonies were able to ‘deal’ with varroa and we needed to know how.

A new apiary of thirty colonies (1&2) was set up in 2004. All hives have mesh varroa floors with deep under-trays. Hives and trays are numbered for recording purposes. Mites were generally collected on a daily basis in our shed on site, therefore free of hive debris, placed into numbered 1oz honey mini-pots and taken home for examination under a 20/40x microscope.

Since 2004 about 50,000 mites have been examined for signs of hygienic behaviour by the bees. We have found lots, typically with carapace damaged or legs removed. (3&4)

Damaged Varroa mites
Damaged Varroa mites

Early in the 90’s, when varroa was first found in Devon, I attended a workshop where (MAFF) CSL officers were advising the use of tobacco smoke and sticky floors to control varroa. Their description of the mite was, “Has a CARAPACE LIKE A CRAB and EIGHT TRUNCATED LEGS on the forward side of its body, LIKE A CRAB ”.

That description caused me and I’m sure, many others, to draw the conclusion that the mite was hard and bony. I was wrong! The mite is quite soft and easily damaged. I use a very fine 3 or 4/0 artist brush (5) to gently collect and examine the mites in order not to inflict my own damage. The electron pictures (6&7) by a Swindon Bee Colleague shows masses of hair growing on the carapace and next picture, the legs. That cannot happen on bone. On the legs are pollen grains.

Collect and examine the mites
Electron pictures of Varroa mite
Electron pictures of Varroa mite

I started my beekeeping over 64 years ago but this last decade or so has been the most testing, for beekeeper as well as the bees. I am not the only one of our group working on this project but to keep things simple I have been the one to collect and examine mites. My colleagues carry out the queen breeding and hive manipulations, etc. At 77 my eyes are beginning to get the better of me so I now need a lens to find the mites (8).


I looked on Ebay and found a 3” hand-held 10x lens advertised in Hong Kong, ‘Buy It Now’ for 99p (£10 postage). I bought one and though I don’t feel it really is 10x it most certainly is stronger than my others.

One of the first things I noticed that I had previously overlooked, were the almost transparent bee antennae (9). These had obviously come from immature bee larvae together with pieces of larval skins.

Mites without a microscope
transparent bee antennae
The head of the larva and its antennae are immediately behind the capping

This suggested that the bees may be uncapping brood cells that contained varroa mites and removing the larva and the mites. The head of the larva and its antennae are immediately behind the capping (10) and would be the first parts to be tugged at by the workers. We use woven wire screen which allow these parts to fall through to the tray. The expanded cut-metal mesh are not used as they tend to allow debris to accumulate on the flat areas

The next picture (11), which is not mine, is showing workers in the act of uncapping.

This picture was ‘captured’ from a video on the German web site 'IWF Wissen und Medien'.

Workers in the act of uncapping

Back to my report; I now looked much closer between the floor debris and found very tiny baby mites about one sixth the size of an adult. These had fallen from the bee larvae as they were being removed. Both pictures show an adult mite for comparison with lots of nymph mites. The more open picture was from a hive in 2007 but unfortunately we did not give it sufficient stores to see it through the winter. This year we are making sure that all have been very well fed so that they will survive to form the basis of our 2009 queen and drone breeding programs.

very tiny baby mites
picture shows many more nymphs

The second picture shows many more nymphs. These were collected from one hive in August 2008, proof that this hive was really getting the better of varroa. Others colonies are doing it but not quite to the same degree.

Except for a very seldom dusting with icing sugar where it was considered the mite population could cause colony collapse, most of our hives have seen no form of varroa control, no chemicals, shook swarm or drone culling, since 2003. Those that were dusted had been poor groomers so were retained only to be used for providing the young workers needed to start mini-nucs in queen rearing.

The queens to be bred in 2009 will be used in newly made up hives for our studies and any surplus queens given to local beekeepers nearest to our apiary. Those beekeepers will be asked to maintain records. With records now being kept, and the area supported with drones from these queens, we may start to see some improvement to local stock ? Should any queen prove superior grafts will be taken. Queens will not be sold outside Wiltshire for the time being. Instrumental Insemination may be used when we are able to be more selective. There is little point at the moment. Queens not showing hygienic behaviour will be culled and replaced. Screened varroa floors are being fitted to 30 nucs so that we may evaluate hygienic behaviour long before the colonies are strong enough for regular hive boxes.

We are keeping our fingers crossed that we may pick the right larvae to produce our queens. There is no way we can predict what the newly bred queens will perform like without keeping records and we have no means of predicting how successful we will be? It is not known which workers within a hive are actually doing the grooming? The daughters of queens that have naturally mated with multi drones are not all true sisters, or even half-sisters so we cannot know which of the worker patri-lines are doing the grooming? Therefore when a larva is selected for grafting we can but hope it was from the correct father; only time and records will tell. What we do see is that some colonies grooming ability is much stronger than others and we can only assume that this is because more than one “set” of daughters are grooming, which probably accounts for the higher percentages. The actual mite drop between colonies is not significantly different, but those that are damaged can be widely different, some have 60% grooming damaged, others as low as 4%.

We are still sceptical that those who use Liquid Nitrogen to kill larvae can claim to have ‘Hygienic Bees’ when the dead larvae are quickly removed. The removal can be carried out by very few workers, even the daughters of just one father? To breed queens from that colony and sell them as Hygienic is questionable to say the least.

In October 2008 I chaired a meeting of Wiltshire Bee Breeders as we are all obviously very concerned with the problems many in the country are seeing, slow build-up, young queens being superseded, early swarming without leaving cells behind and hives becoming queen-less, etc. We don’t have the answers but everyone felt there were insufficient drones about, maybe the drone culling as a means of varroa control was partly to blame and with the poor weather we, and our bees, have suffered it was felt that the workers were reducing the drone numbers as the weather turned bad and letting them build back up during the brighter spells. This probably meant that many drones never reached sexual maturity before being cast out and that the bulk of those attending congregations were immature and ineffective.

Dr Tony Herbert, of the Salisbury Bee Breeding Group, when trying to obtain semen for Instrumental Insemination was finding that most of his drones were actually without semen. He has now devised a method of retaining and identifying mature drones for next season.

At the meeting it was agreed that in 2009 the five Wiltshire Beekeeping Branches would hold some “Family Fun Days” ending with Bar-B-Q or picnic. The objective being to seek out drone congregation areas (DCA’s), the children’s hearing being better than adults and with helium filled balloons and queen lure.

This would be followed by a concerted effort of drone breeding from our best colonies, which will be fed to retain the drones, and then to take them to just a few of the more isolated DCA’s on specified dates to coincide with queen breeding programs.

Virgin queens can be released somewhere handy to the DCA’s for mating. It is well understood that the queens will not always use the nearest DCA and that they may take several mating flights so we may not achieve the result we would like to, but we will have encouraged all branch members to step up their management skills in breeding better drones, and lots of them. We will also have logged DCA’s in Wiltshire. At the moment there is not even one recorded site.

It was also suggested that these days with fewer drones about the virgins will be taking many more mating flights. Queen breeders using mini-nucs like the Apidea have been in the habit of closing the queen exit after a few days, or once they have seen a queen return must no longer do so. There are many reports that queens have been seen flying out for up to two weeks or more. (Look on the web under ‘Queen Breeding’, ‘Queen Rearing’ and ‘Queen Mating’).

Ron Hoskins
President of Swindon & District BKA
January 2009



In 1992 a destructive blood-sucking mite from abroad, VARROA JACOBSONII  somehow managed to get into honeybee hives in Devon, England and in less than 10 years had infested almost every colony in Great Britain, including that of Feral Honeybees in trees, barns, and walls, etc. The Highlands of Scotland may have escaped the scourge. Bumblebees are not afflicted.

We have established that Varroa cannot be totally eradicated so beekeepers have tried to control its numbers to manageable levels with a man-made pyrethroid, but without overmuch success. It costs several pounds per year to treat each colony.

It is estimated that more than two thirds of all Britain’s honeybees have been lost to Varroa, mostly in the south and the midlands. Many beekeepers gave up the craft in despair. Varroa has wiped out nearly every feral colony causing remote pollination to suffer greatly.

Bees swarm to multiply and if not recaptured and ‘hived’ by a beekeeper, may well colonise the now unused ‘nests’ of the feral bees, but their days are also numbered without treatment by man.

The only honeybees remaining are those kept by a much-reduced number of dedicated beekeepers whose hives are usually conveniently near accessible roads.

The feral bees’ habitat was mostly in the more inaccessible remote areas, like the new SHCG site in Stanton Park.

With feral bees gone so has the ‘remote’ pollination that helped provide most of the nuts, berries and seeds that sustained much of our wildlife, birds and mammals.Our project aims to make it possible for  honeybees to once again survive back in the wild.

Honeybee colonies during summer comprise of just one queen, a few hundred males (drones), but an amazing fifty thousand infertile females (workers), most of which are the true pollinators.

The younger workers perform many other duties within the hive for two or three weeks. One such duty is to turn nectar into honey for their winter larder. The beekeeper takes any surplus only if it has been a good season. Honeybees cannot store nectar, as it will ferment. Pure honey will not ferment. Apiary at Stanton park

The drones do not survive long after August. The rest do not hibernate but go through winter as a full colony, ready to carry out pollination from spring onwards worth £billions to farmers and the nation, the beekeeper gets very little. A few jars of honey are his reward.

Bumblebees differ. All will die in late autumn except the queen; she will survive winter by hibernating. She then starts a fresh colony in spring building up to 80-120 bees. They are not really great pollinators, though we do enjoy the varieties and colour changes created by their cross-pollination habit of flitting between plants. As the bumble family will all die out there is no need for them to collect nectar for a winter store. Pollination therefore is less.

The honeybee is similar in size and shape to a wasp but not similar in colour or habit. They are not perceived as a “pretty, furry insect with an orange behind”, so do not get the same degree of reverence as bumbles, though its importance to our economy and ecology must never be under estimated. They do not generally compete with Bumbles as is often thought.

Varroa is not a parasite of bumblebees, as the bumbles breeding cycle is not suitable to the breeding habits of Varroa. Mother varroa lays about 12 eggs on the honeybee pupae. The eggs hatch and will live on the blood of the pupae. They mate with a single brother and about 18 days later they exit the brood cell, only to later enter other cells and start over, 12 very quickly become 144. and so on.


Since 1992 the Varroa mite has been aptly renamed as VARROA DESTRUCTOR Most other parasites do not kill their host.

By 2002 the mite had become resistant to the then only authorised treatment, Pyrethroid, and is now creating carnage once again. (Honeybees are classified as Food Producing Animals because of their honey production and therefore the Veterinary Medical Directorate controls all treatments). Certain non-medicinal products and techniques of management skills can be used. BUT, neither will enable honeybees to once again survive in the wild.

The aim of SHCG is to develop a strain of honeybee able to survive without treatment, despite Varroa. By studying bee behaviour and survival, without them having been subjected to ‘man-made’ treatment, we hope to ascertain which of our strains may be able to deal with the parasite, some through the natural ability to develop and then maintain, grooming techniques which it can pass on to future generations, others because they become resistant to the effects of the blood sucking mite that is the vector of Bee Paralysis and Cloudy Wing Virus.


trial hives Either will cause the collapse of the colony because when it becomes the workers’ turn to collect nectar & pollen for their ‘winter larder’, they are unable to fly. The colony then starves to death.

When the honeybee queen takes her maiden flight, she mates about 50 feet in the air and several miles away.

Unfortunately for our program, she will mate with up to 20 males, probably none of them related to her or each other, and can come from colonies anywhere within 80 sq. miles. It is therefore obvious that we have no means of applying any degree of selection control upon this act what-so-ever.

What is more, when now studying a colony for selection, their qualities may change almost daily, due to the effects of the varying qualities derived from the ‘Sperm father’.

Therefore many generations must be bred and discarded as unsuitable queen donors (A generation means a new queen and her progeny). The drones are another matter – they have no father! They are created from an unfertilised egg laid by the queen so their characteristics are totally related to those of the queen, though they do have grandparents, the queen’s mum and dad.

We have sacrificed honey production as a priority and look to the colony’s hetitleh and ability to survive Varroa as prime factors. If a colony dies from the effects of Varroa so be it. Sad, time consuming, and costly, but not the bees we would wish to breed from in any case.

However, should a colony appear to be ‘a survivor’ it warrants further study. The colony that failed must be replaced to maintain the vast number of worker bees required to sustain our breeding program. The queens we breed must be set up singly in a new home containing several hundred workers.


All workers live only 5/6 weeks in summer so a separate breeding program for them must be retained to support the individual queen colony.

(About August there is a change and workers live until April!)  Queens may live for up to 5 years.

From our studies we select two compatible colonies. From one we breed a number of queens; from the other we must breed thousands of drones. This part of our program is far from easy but is child’s play compared to the next stage.



Exposing Drone's penis Collecting sperm from a Drone

Artificially inseminating queen bee

Instrumental Insemination of queen honeybees is carried out under a microscope in clinical conditions. The queen is narcotised whilst this ‘micro-surgery’ takes place. 8-10µl of sperm has been obtained from as many drones as it takes, usually about 30, and then injected into a queen. She must then be kept captive in a nucleus hive until she commences laying or she may still take her ‘maiden flight’ having been asleep during the ‘man-made mating’. Once egg laying starts she may then be used to reign a normal colony where she will be studied and records kept.

To make a queen we use a technique called ‘grafting’. This entails selecting a frame of day-old pupae and carefully transferring individuals to specially made wax cups. These cups are then placed inverted into a previously prepared colony, which then works for the beekeeper by turning the grafts from workers   into queens, if we are lucky and if we prepared correctly.

Grafting and queen rearing will be carried out at the Stanton Park Apiary. Training courses will be carried out there to enable the spread of this work to which many beekeepers are unfamiliar at the moment. The program ahead has more than one facet. Primarily it is to overcome the problems we now face with Varroa but parallel to that our selection process takes into account other factors; docility, honey production, comb building, disease tolerance, ability to work in the cold, etc.

And there is another. Early last century many of the indigenous honeybees Apis meliffera meliffera (A.m.m) also known as The British Dark Bee, were overcome and died from a disease Acarine, before some became immune to it. Since then man has imported bees from all over the world and what we now have is a mixture of races. Some of these crosses can be very bad tempered, as in some crossbred dogs. The British Isles Bee Breeding Assn. (BIBBA), of which I am a member, was formed to re-establish A.m.m. as the indigenous pedigree honeybee, the one evolved to work in our climatical conditions. Certain select features can readily identify all races of honeybee; length of over hairs, wing pattern, tongue length and more. We can identify A.m.m.

As we are now in the computer age we have developed programs that help us in our selection process. We can now select from only those colonies that show true conformity.

My colleague, Ron Hill, (also a serious beekeeper & breeder), and I have another breeding apiary at Acorn Bridge where we are developing strains of The British Dark Bee.

By taking straws of semen from these we are able to do swaps with other like-minded breeders to widen the gene pool and prevent the problems associated with in-breeding.

This program cannot necessarily be confused with the Varroa program because at Acorn we can and do carry out some forms of treatment against the mite, but as our studies do run parallel we are ever watchful for ‘varroa tolerance’.

The Stanton Park project needs your support and backing if we are able to overcome the problems Varroa can cause.
Honeybees were known to be ‘responsible’ for more than 80% of the nations pollination requirements in 1992. Much of that has already disappeared. What will happen if beekeepers stop their caring work and there are no honeybees? Many annual flowers would disappear titleogether.
Planting of ‘bee-plants’ would also help sustain all bees. Even the sprinkling of suitable wild flower seeds on waste ground and verges. Honeybees will fly up to 3 miles for their pollen & nectar


The Honeybee Conservation project in Stanton Park is not intended for honey production and requires funding towards specialist equipment for studying, bee breeding and queen production to “combat” Pyrethroyd Resistant Varroa Mites.

Donations toward this project should be made payable to
“Swindon and District Beekeeping Assn.(SHCG)”

A bit about the group and myself (as I am managing the project)
SHCG was created to undertake the studies as already outlined. My ‘Bee-Buddy’ Ron Hill and I had been discussing the probabilities prior to PRV. It was when the first resistant mites were found in the UK that, with the support of Swindon BKA, that we approached Swindon Council for their help and support. The site in Stanton Community Park was offered and accepted in late July 2004. It is now under development to meet our requirements.

I learnt my beekeeping at the tender age of 12 whilst an evacuee from Tottenham to Kingham Hill, Oxon, and have kept bees for more years than I now care to remember.
With my colleague, Ron Hill, we have around 70 hives of bees in three different apiaries, (four sites with this Conservation Project).
  • I am president of Swindon & District Beekeepers Assn.

  • Was also an executive committee member of the British Beekeepers Assn.

  • Secretary to their Education & Husbandry Committee until 2005.

  • Secretary, Treasurer and News Editor to the Bee Instrumental Insemination Group (BIIG).

  • My Instrumental Insemination training was carried out at Ohio State University, Entomology Department.

  • BIIG is a recently founded group (2002), with about 50 members nationwide, of which I was a founder member.

  • SHCG is the Stanton Park project managed by Ron Hill and myself, assisted by members of Swindon & District Beekeepers Assn. and “Friends of Stanton Park”.

Please always buy local honey and support British Beekeeping.

New beekeepers always needed
and made welcome.

Training Courses Available.

Ron Hoskins, 01793-525364
10 Larksfield, Swindon. SN3 5AD

E-mail Ron

Project commenced 17th July 2004