West Wales Bee Breeding Program
Team leader, genetics. Based at Bangor University for the last 15 years, she is primarily an evolutionary geneticist working on reptiles and the evolution of reptile venom. Her recent interest in bees (also, of course, venomous animals) began after her husband took up beekeeping around 5 years ago (he is now a commercial beekeeper producing delicious honey on Anglesey and adjacent areas). “Modern genetic techniques are advancing very rapidly and becoming cheaper all the time, and I felt strongly that I could do something positive with my skills and the laboratory facilities available here at Bangor to help the bee breeding program” she said.
Team leader, beekeeping. David first started keeping bees in 1973 and is the Director and co-founder of Tropical Forest Products Ltd., a company specialising in importing organic honey and beeswax from village beekeepers in Africa, thus enabling thousands of families to build up prosperous livelihoods using their local versions of traditional beehives. Tropical Forest also has its own bee farming operation of 1000 hives producing honey from apiaries in Mid Wales and Shropshire. At the beginning of August, the bees are moved up into the Welsh mountains and moors to gather heather honey, the last honey flow of the season. David observes that “Beekeepers throughout Europe are noticing a general decline in bee health: colonies dwindle and die out from many causes throughout the year. Sometimes this takes the form of a simultaneous large scale collapse of thousands of colonies, at other times it takes the form of a steady loss of individual colonies, often from problems with infertile queens. The end result is that beekeepers are struggling to make a living and hive numbers are declining rapidly, threatening pollination of many crops. Having observed the vigorous population of bees throughout Africa, which in many places has become resistant to varroa within a few years through ‘survival of the fittest’, I felt that something similar must be possible here if resistant bees can be identified and propagated".
PhD student (who will do most of the actual work). A local lad from the slate mining community of Aberllefenni, he attended secondary school in Machynlleth, and subsequently college at the North Wales School of Radiography. After befriending an American woman (to whom he is now married, and they have two boys), his path led away from Wales and he studied biology at the University of Oregon. Moving on to Alaska, he worked in the Molecular Ecology Lab at the Alaska Science Centre, also obtaining his MSc. degree from the University of Alaska for using molecular techniques to investigate hybridisation between natural populations of coastal rainbow and cutthroat trout. He has nearly ten years of experience working in this field, which he will now be able to apply to bees. “This scholarship would allow me to build on this experience and provide opportunities for living and working in Wales in the future. Having spent time living in both Bangor and Aberystwyth, I would be working in familiar communities and be among family who live in North and mid-Wales”, he said. He is rapidly picking up bee keeping skills and has already shown a talent for grafting queen larvae.
There are also a number of other students working on aspects of the project in the summer and autumn of 2010: these are Niamh Cahill (undergraduate), Paul Davison, Lucy Parsons and Katherine Bardsley (Masters level). Thus, this project will also help to train the next generation of honeybee scientists and beekeepers.