About Us

SHCG logoThe Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group (SHCG) based in Wiltshire, was formally founded by me, Ron Hoskins, in 2004 though actually commenced in 1995 when I discovered that chemicals being used by us to control Varroa mite numbers were having an adverse effect on the viability of the drone semen .

I learned my beekeeping  73 years ago (1943) but the years which followed the arrival of  Varroa in 1992 have been the most testing, for beekeeper and the bees.

I’ve given a large number of talks in the UK and in Australia.  Been on UK and International Radio and TV, explaining our research and the work we do in Swindon to produce bees able to live with Varroa — and survive — without the use of chemicals!

I made the decision to stop the use of chemicals, used by most beekeepers to control the Varroa mite numbers when I realised they were causing problems. This decision came from the knowledge that most chemicals used at that time, and still being used, 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 Queens instrumentally inseminated by me were being superseded within a few weeks of introduction. The only procedural change to my beekeeping at the time was the use of chemicals. Therefore, chemicals had to go.

I discovered that some of my bees were actively grooming mites from each other. I did not understand why they would be doing this. Was it something they had learned to do or was nature taking over by natural evolution?  By swapping queens around I was able to prove the grooming ability was genetic and not simply a learned ability. Over the following years I have been able to selectively breed Varroa Tolerant Honeybees. This now forms a major part of the work by SHCG, however…

New discoveries were made. You must first understand the breeding method of the Honeybee and the Varroa mite.

The Bee: An egg is laid in one of the honeycomb cells by the queen bee, three days later the egg hatches and worker bees begin feeding the new baby, known as a larva at this stage. During the next five days the larva will grow about 450 times its original body weight. The cell is then capped over with a porous wax cover in order the larval bee will be able to breath. .

The Varroa: During the bees five days at larvae stage a female adult varroa mite will enter the cell to lay her eggs on the bee larva. She will create a wound on the baby bee for her babies to feed from. She must keep the wound open through the nine moults the larva bee goes through to turn it into a pupa bee with legs and wings etc., when the baby bee exits the cell the mother Varroa and her new young adult females will exit with it. The young mites will have mated with a brother in the cell where he dies.The Varroa will attach themselves to an adult bee for a few days until they find their way into another larval bee cell. Whilst attached to the adult bee is when the grooming of adult Varroa is taking place, however …

One of my colonies was discovered where worker bees appeared able to detect that Varroa were breeding upon the larval bees within their capped cells. The worker bees were uncapping brood cells prematurely and ejecting the bee pupae from the hive. This removal causes tiny baby Varroa to fall off; a major impact on the breeding numbers of  Varroa.

It is now known that the reason behind the uncapping is the odour given off  from the wound created by ‘mother’ Varroa for her offspring to feed which she has kept open during a number of  moults. The wound begins to stink and workers simply think they are removing a potential source of disease which may affect the whole colony of around  50,000 bees.

A simple case of very hygienic bees doing what they HAVE BECOME good at. We at SHCG have turned that to our advantage and such bees are now included high in our breeding programs.

Over the years lots of drones have been bred from our most hygienic colonies to add their genes to the local gene pool. By late summer 2009 checks for hygienic behaviour showed most of our hives were now uncapping cells and removing the damaged baby bee who would never be able to carry out the full range of hive duties a bee must go through as part of a social colony. Many bees that hatch have lost as much as 50% of their body weight due to the feeding activities of Varroa.

For the full article about our research visit My Research page.


A message to Beekeepers local to Swindon

The time has now come where, with your help, we can involve more and more beekeepers, training them to conduct similar tests to those carried out by SHCG then to breed queens and build new bee colonies which in time will make Swindon & District an area of hygienic bees. The area will be continuously increased.

This will only be the start as we intend involving more and more beekeepers over wider areas year on year. This project is the only one like it in the UK, probably in the world, as SHCG are the only people known to have been able to selectively breed this bee and the achievement potential has been recognised all over the world.

Ron Hoskins