Search

Bees

‘Your promise is sweeter to my taste than honey in my mouth (Psalm 118)

Our Past...

It was likely that bees were kept at Buckfast from the earliest times. The custom of bee keeping was re-established after the re-foundation of the monastery in 1882. Two monks were involved, and contributed to the beekeeping journals of the time, they were Fr Maurus Masse and Br Columban Wanner.

Early in the 20th century, one of the youngsters who came to Buckfast from Germany with a view to joining the community was assigned to assist Br Columban. This was Br Adam Kehrle. He began helping Br Columban at the tender age of twelve, but he was destined to continue working with the bees for over seventy eight years, and to become an international authority in the field.

Soon after Br Adam joined Br Columban, thirty out of the Abbey’s forty-six colonies were wiped out by a disease known as Acarine. All the bees that died were of the native British black bee variety. This bee was renowned for being hardy, but somewhat ill-tempered. The bees that survived the outbreak were all of Italian origin.

In 1919, after Br Columban retired, Br Adam was put in charge of the bees, and he set about rebuilding the colonies. His intention was to use cross-breeding to develop a new bee which would be hardy like the black bee, but disease-resistant like the Italian bee, and a good honey producer.

Brother Adam made extensive journeys all over the world to get breeding stock. He concentrated on countries with a distinct indigenous race of bees, going chiefly to isolated country regions where the purity of the native strains had been maintained. He even went to the Sahara. Over the years, he travelled more than 100,000 miles in search of bees.
The result of all these travels, as well as many years of patient experiment at the breeding station on Dartmoor, was the Buckfast Bee™. This bee is a good pollen gatherer, and is normally quite gentle. It also has a lower tendency to swarm than many other varieties, and is resistant to Acarine.

Buckfast queens are now kept by beekeepers all over the world. Br Adam wrote three books about the Buckfast Bee™, including ‘In Search of the Best Strains of Bees’ (1983), and ‘Beekeeping at Buckfast’ (1975). In 1974, he was awarded the O.B.E. for his work. Br Adam’s books can purchased via the bookshop.

Br Adam retired from the Bee Department at the age of 93. He died in 1996, in his 99th year.

In 2010, the emphasis of the Buckfast Bee Department switched to education, particularly on teaching beekeepers and running courses for those who wish to start beekeeping or learn about bees. A Community Apiary scheme has been developed with the intention of opening up beekeeping to all. For more information, please email bees@buckfast.org.uk

I

Buckfast apiaries with Br Adam

Today...

A new direction has now been adopted that befits the environmentally-aware generation of the 21st century.
It is that of gentle bee-keeping – with the emphasis shifting from commerce to community, and our 40 hives are today kept for research and education, instead of the bees cultivated simply for their honey. A popular feature of gentle bee-keeping is the workshops that creatively engage visitors and locals into good practice. These include art workshops, sessions for children and classes in keeping bees for beginners and improvers. The Abbey also has a community apiary where people can work together as a group with the bees if they cannot keep bees at home.

Thos who presently run the department agree that the main focus of the bee department is to promote gentle and intelligent beekeeping “because by improving our knowledge and understanding of how bees’ function: their natural rhythms, behaviours, and instincts, we will get the best from them.”

It is considered that working with honeybees in this way is a great way to engage with nature. “One of the bonuses of looking through a hive is the way it can distract you from a stressful and busy life. It can be a very mindful experience which lots of visitors find calming and are surprised at how good they feel after witnessing nature so intimately. Watching a baby bee being born is amazing, and I still get excited when I see it happening even after all these years as a beekeeper.”

Honeybees, alongside other pollinators, also fulfil a crucial role in the natural world by pollinating flowering plants and so facilitate the production of seeds, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Bees are an important part of the food chain, even if you don’t like honey, and they keep plants healthy by promoting diversity and vigour!

Workshops & Events

Donation

£