bee keepers part of the Scillonian bee project

How your Claudia Bradby pearl jewellery helps bee conservation

Claudia’s beekeeping hobby led to the creation of her Honey Bee Collection, and  to join 1% For The Planet. Through this we chose to support bee conservation and our funding goes directly to The Scillonian Bee Project . 

Claudia met up with Jilly, the project founder, for an update

Jilly how long have you kept bees?

'11 years - since 2012 - I attended a highly recommend local beekeeping course, and joined my local association - I met some interesting people from all walks of life, now great friends.'

How does our 1% For The Planet donation contribute to this project?

'The support is everything - helping with transport costs when we need to bring researchers and scientists across to the islands,  and supporting the costs for the DNA sampling. Without which we wouldn’t know where to start for a sustainable bee keeping project; the DNA data allows us to breed from the best of the islands bees, to keep the stock local and to understand the importance of resilience in the island bees.

The funding also contributes towards education, as well as to outreach. Through our efforts to protect the bio security of the Isles of Scilly, we are now supported by the Wild life trust, the island schools, the council, our MP and the Duchy; not forgetting Bibba and B4.'

How was filming with Rick Stein for his BBC Cornwall series?

'Manic, fun and exciting! Filming landed on a golden day as Stephen Flemming from Bee Craft Magazine, and Nick Bentham Green from B4,  just happened to be over helping with training local island bee keepers. We all joined in to take samples of drone larve ready to send to Bee Bytes (part of the Roslin institute - think Dolly the sheep).

After squeezing Rick into a far too small bee suit, we explained our plans:

“We take samples over a ten year period so we can trace the bee's lineage, as well as working towards a sustainable honey bee that can survive the harsh winters and long dry summers on the islands.”

Rick was a joy to be with, and he really got the essence of island life; he tried different honey flavours - one from each of our five islands. We were thrilled that Rick made a beautiful honey steam pudding that anyone wanting a treat can download from the BBC, - go for it; it’s delicious.'

Watch the episode here.

Do bees fly between the islands?

'Now then, that’s a question I can’t quite put a ‘yes’ answer to! There are a lot of top scientists and experts involved in our ‘Game of Drones’ which allows us to see if the boy bees (drones) are flying across the sea to other islands to mate. The school children are helping mark the drones with colour dots specific to their islands. It’s a ongoing experiment that will continue next summer.'

What has been the most exciting moment for you during this project?

"Without a doubt - hunting for drone congregation sites with Stephen Flemming - a beautiful, beautiful spectacular.'

What plants are unique to the Scilly Islands that the bees forage on?

'The bees are foraging on a unique mixture of plants from the Abbey Garden.  This is an historic collection imported from around the world,  made up of plants from the mid Mediterranean zone 8 - South African Protea, Australian eucalyptus, Italian acacia, the list goes on; imagine the honey!

It’s a truly magical place to visit.

You will see plenty of bumble bees and solitary bees competing for the pollen and nectar around the Garden.

We also have less exotic, simpler plants that grow wild and free on the Island that the Honey bees enjoy foraging, like camomile, brambles, dandelions, campion, birds pod trio, fennel, heather, corn marigold and my favourite, the magnificent  Babington's leek.

Can visitors buy your honey, and how can people contribute to the project?

'Honey is for sale now and again, in and around the island, depending on that year’s summers yield. But we only take off excess - we have to leave the bees ample to survive the winter (our priority).'

Jilly, please can you explain the full project.

'The Scillonian bee project is a community project working with the local beekeepers on the isles and the island-based schools.

The aim of the project is to assist the local community in protecting the locally adapted near-native dark honeybee populations, and to develop sustainable beekeeping methods to conserve and protect the honeybee populations. Without embracing the island community, and listening to the community’s ideas and needs, this project and the protection of honeybees would not work.'

 Scillonian bee keepers and landscape

Can you explain some of your community activity: what is 'Game of Drones'?

'The Game of Drones is one of our projects.  It involves working with The Five Island's Academy, and island community; the island beekeepers, and bee experts, supported by the Wildflower Collective and Pollenize.

Drone honey bees are marked with a colour specific to the island they’re based on and these marked drones are then mapped with the help of people reporting their sightings of these drones. This shows the movement of the drones within and between the isles to help us better understand their behaviour and movement and gives a wonderful opportunity to get the students involved in learning and campaigning about the bees.'

Learn more heremarking bees as part of game of drones project

What science is involved in your project?

'We aim to establish the genetics within the near-native honeybees found on the Isles of Scilly - the DNA of the different colonies found on the island is tested.

Working with experts from Pollenize and the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, we can begin to explore and better understand the genetics of these bees and develop a resilient and sustainable strain of locally adapted, near native dark honeybee. The science of honey bees is integral to the success of this project.'

dna sampling Scillonian bees

What plans do you have for 2023?

'Over the next year, there is much coming up!

We are continuing to work alongside the schools and involve the students with the scientific research into these bees and developing it into their curriculum. The work with the local beekeepers is continuing and is getting much busier. The 'Game of Drones' is continuing; there is more DNA testing taking place, with the aim to get samples of DNA from all the different colonies of honeybees on the isles; and with Pollenize, we are in the process of setting up cameras inside some of the hives on the isles to be able to understand better the largely unknown movements inside the hives.

We are also focusing on very current issues, such as understanding the impact climate change is having on the bees. The involvement in this project from the local beekeepers and farmers is growing and is making the future of this project very exciting, and positive.'

jilly and nick preparing to send the samples to Beebytes

Discover the inspiration behind our Honey Bee Collection here

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