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

Our Past...

It is likely that bees were kept at Buckfast Abbey from medieval times – not just for honey, because beeswax was used for candles, which burn with a pure flame befitting for the house of God. That is why after work began on rebuilding the Abbey in 1882, honeybees were brought back and have remained here ever since. Two of the monks involved at that time were Fr Maurus Masse and Br Columban Wanner both of whom contributed to the beekeeping journals of the time.

Early in the 20th century one of the youngsters who came to the Abbey from Germany with a view to joining the community, was Karl Kehrle (later to become Br Adam). 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 later became an international authority in the field.

Soon after Br Adam joined Br Columban, 29 of the 45 colonies kept at the Abbey were lost through a mysterious illness which was sweeping through the British Isles known as the Isle of Wight disease. The bees that survived the outbreak at the Abbey were all of Italian and Carniolan origin.

After Br Columban retired in 1919, Br Adam was put in charge of the Abbey apiaries and he set about restoring colony numbers and strengthening their resilience to Acarine, a parasitic mite which was believed, at that time, to be the cause of the Isle of Wight disease. His intention was to use crossbreeding to develop a new hybrid bee which was gentle, hardy, resistant to Acarine, and a good honey producer.

Brother Adam made extensive journeys all over the world to get breeding stock for this purpose. 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 different strains of bees and this, coupled with many years of patient experimental crossbreeding, at his isolated mating apiary on Dartmoor, resulted in the creation of the Buckfast Bee™.

Buckfast queens are now kept by beekeepers all over the world. Br Adam wrote three books about his work -‘Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey’ (1975); ‘In Search of the Best Strains of Bees’ (1983); and “Breeding the Honeybee” (1987). In 1974, he was awarded the O.B.E. for his work. Br Adam’s books can be purchased online or via the gift shop.

Br Adam retired from the Bee Department aged 93 and died in 1996 in his 99th year.

In 2010, the emphasis of the Buckfast Abbey Bee Department switched to education and began to deliver courses and workshops for those interested in honeybees and beekeeping.

A Community beekeeping group has also been created with the intention of making beekeeping accessible to a greater range of people. For more information, please email


Buckfast apiaries with Br Adam


A new direction has now been adopted that befits the environmentally-aware generation of the 21st century.
It is one of gentle beekeeping – with the emphasis shifting from commerce to community. Our 40 hives are kept today for education, and to promote an appreciation of nature and wellbeing, as well as honey production. The department runs beekeeping courses and honeybee experience days, as well as hosting visits from groups and individuals from all over the world. The team offer a wide range of talks which can be delivered in person or by Zoom. There is also a community beekeeping group which provides an opportunity for a more informal interaction with bees including gardening for pollinators and other group activities.

Those who presently run the bee department, agree that their main focus is to promote gentle and intelligent beekeeping “Because by trying to understand our bees, and by paying attention to their natural rhythms and behaviours, we definitely get more from them. Working with honeybees 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 colony life so intimately. Watching a baby bee being born is amazing, and we still get excited when we see it happening even after all these years as beekeepers.”

As well as producing honey and beeswax, honeybees also fulfil a crucial role in the natural world by pollinating flowering plants and so help to facilitate the production of seeds, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. This makes them an important part of the food chain as well as keeping plants healthy by promoting diversity and vigour.

Workshops & Events