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Chair’s AGM Report 2021

This is essentially an overview of 2021 for the HWBKA picking out some of the highlights … and lowlights. More detail can be found in each of the committee members reports which you also have received.

Starting with the ‘lowlights’ we are obviously still being impacted by COVID although not as severely as in 2020 when almost everything stopped.

On more positive notes the Association continues strongly with 247 members, only one down on last year.

Finances are still strong with a healthy balance of ≈£21k although this would have been even greater had we been able to run the course last year in 2020. It is still our hope and intention to be able to fund an Apiary with a permanent Club House and we are slowly building funds to accomplish that.

Despite the BBKA increasing their charges last year, when we had to absorb the cost as we could not do anything about it until the following AGM, we have decided again to maintain our current level of subscriptions and absorb that cost increase once more. Most of your dues do go to the BBKA and for BDI as can see in Peter Halford’s and Rob’s reports. It was for this reason that we changed our rules and constitution to enable us to increase dues by whatever the BBKA impose should we need to, without having to wait for the following years AGM to pass a resolution or hold an EGM.

At the beginning of 2021 it was not at all certain we would be able to run the Beginner’s Course. It represents a major revenue for the Association both financially and in terms of new members. In anticipation of future difficulties, we setup an education sub-committee, an objective for which would be the generation of a comprehensive course manual, and this was completed during the bleak mid-winter and early spring.  Armed with this document we felt that in the worst case we might be able to run the course on a one-to-one basis or in much smaller groups depending on prevailing lockdown criteria at the time. This would of course require a greater number of tutors who may well need the manual for reference. In the event the first 2 classroom-based sessions were held on Zoom and the initial ‘in-the-field’ events one to one with the very much increased number of tutors in their own apiaries. Our tutors did sterling work, and we are very appreciative of their efforts on behalf of the beginners. This all worked well and then in July we recommenced group events. The manual will stand us in good stead for the future and all new beekeepers on the course get a copy to keep so they get our association’s view and are not too confused by all the sometimes-conflicting advice they might get in books and on-line

We held the Taster Day this year in June at my apiary and had a most enjoyable day with 11 participants, including Peter Halford and Talha Dinc who came long to help.

Following on from a laudable initiative from Malcolm 2 years earlier to encourage people through their Basic Assessment, we finally managed to hold the assessment, again in my apiary to better facilitate necessary teas, coffees, brandies etc. 5 people, 4 from HWBKA and one who came up from Hastings and Rother took part. Mike Cullen, a Master Beekeeper from Hastings took us through quite gently. My guilt at not doing it earlier in my beekeeping career finally got the better of me and I too took the test of ‘beekeeping manhood’.

In terms of other events held throughout year they have been quite severely curtailed. Committee Meetings have been held on Zoom as Peter Leswell has had to maintain a strict isolation regime. There were no country fayres we could attend. BeeBanter was off the menu until it re-commenced in the latter half of the year. Attendance at BeeBanters has been somewhat down compared to the past, no doubt because of people’s legitimate concerns over either getting infected or spreading infection. Last month Talha managed to organise a very successful wax workshop which Helen Hadley led, and Sandy Infield hosted in her spacious studio. On the 8th December he has organised our annual Christmas Dinner at the Middle House in Mayfield. We hope you will be able to attend.

Our Association Apiaries are in mostly good fettle, although it has been a tricky year for many beekeepers as indicated in Keith & Steve’s report about Slab Castle. We heard in Jonathan Coote’s Apiarist article about the winter losses. We had a warm February causing the colonies to build quickly and early, followed by a colder dry spell and then a colder wet spell and some colonies never really got up to speed. My own honey crop as with the Associations was less than half the usual.   

Nonetheless Slab Castle is going into the winter with 10 colonies and much work has been done over the year maintaining it and the equipment.

Our lease from WDC for the Horsted Green Apiary was increased to 12 colonies in exchange for which they wanted our assistance with promotion, and you may have seen articles in Ashdown Living Sussex Country Living. I took over from Steve running the Apiary mid-way through the year as the combination of running Slab Castle and Horsted with all the travel that entailed was getting too much. Steve was very largely responsible for setting up the splendid facilities at Horsted for which we owe him a debt of gratitude. There was a very successful queen rearing activity held at Horsted and led by Helen Hadley and Malcolm. We used a particularly vigorous colony of nice gentle bees and produced some 30 or so queens which were given out to various members. We plan to hold something similar next year with more emphasis on teaching the craft. We will also be raising 10 nucs of bees with the very generous assistance of John Miller, to supply future new beekeepers on the course. A small part we can play in reducing the need to import bees from abroad along with whatever plague they might bring in with them.

As mentioned above, it is an awful lot of work running the association apiaries and we hope next year to be able to enlist some permanent or semi-permanent assisting teams to help share the burden and perhaps as a teaching experience too for those less experienced, to learn from the likes of Steve and Keith. There will be a form sent out and at the AGM for those who would like to express interest.

The Apiarist is going out quarterly ‘jam packed’ thanks to the sterling work of Paul with his expertise in DTP

AHAT - fortunately there has been very little activity on the Asian Hornet front, due in no small part to the continuing vigilance of beekeepers nationwide and of course FERA.

The website continues to support our activities and membership very well. The advent of booking forms for events and the eR2 system making life much easier for our Membership Secretary Peter …although it is still a great deal of work he does behind the scenes to keep our Association running smoothly.

SBKA has been quiet and similarly impacted by CV-19 and holding meetings on Zoom. There was no Bee Market this year but the Autumn Convention which was a hybrid live /Zoom meeting had some interesting talks particularly from the folks at Buckfast Abbey.

Having overstayed my statutory three term year as Chair by one year in extremis to get through the COVID crisis this has been my last year …honest!

It’s been fun, an honour and a privilege. I will still be around, however, looking after the little darlings at our Horsted Apiary.

You should be aware that this is shaping up to be a bad year for colony losses, seemingly due to very levels of varroa. No doubt the odd weather this year has had an influence.

There has been much correspondence on the HWBKA WhatsApp group about losses. Our own Honey Queen Helen Hadley posted she had lost 3 and now reckons it is 9 so far. John Miller has lost one …the only one he forgot to treat. As a result, I (PC) inspected my own colonies a couple of days ago and discovered to my dismay I have lost 7 out of 12 so far.

There had been some talk of absconding on WhatsApp and indeed some of my deceased colonies which were previously very strong had just a few 10’s of bees left and loads of untouched stores, which puzzled me.

I decided to contact the Regional Bee Inspector Dan Etheridge, sent him some notes and had very long and very interesting conversation with him. His first impression is that I experienced a 'varroa bomb' as Randy Oliver calls them. Apparently, he reckons we are having the worst year ever for varroa induced colony collapses especially in the south; quote ...’my phone has not stopped ringing since the Christmas break’. For those of you who have been very rigorous in your varroa treatments it may not be such a problem.

As some of you know I have for more than a decade now tried to practice a policy of minimum intervention in the hope that by not treating quite so vigorously and supporting strains unable to tolerate varroa we might expect natural selection to do what it should and establish a new equilibrium with more tolerant bees, plus there is much published literature that bees are adapting. It had been working out. After 10+ years with very few losses I suppose I had been lulled into a false sense of security. However, this time I have been caught out.    

Dan was at great pains to point out that he is not against 'natural beekeeping' in the slightest and indeed tried himself for many years.  However, he was also at great pains to point out, and this is the very important salutary lesson I will take away from this experience, that one must monitor varroa very regularly and accurately. At least once a month and preferably using the alcohol or sugar wash technique rather than relying on the sticky board which he has found unreliable, otherwise, given the right conditions the varroa numbers can explode ‘exponentially’. Had I done this more conscientiously I would not have been caught out as I have been. It's not necessary to treat with varroacides religiously, regularly, needlessly or prophylactically. But it is essential to treat when really needed.

So, I’ll be going out to treat my remaining 5 colonies with the vaporiser tomorrow, 3 times 5 days apart as I’ve missed the brood break …not there would have been one in this record-breaking warm winter.

The completely empty ‘Marie Celeste’ colonies you’ll see in the photograph, and which one might think have absconded are not so unusual apparently as in some colonies most of the ailing bees have the decency to do a Captain Oates and take themselves off to die elsewhere.

Malcolm has been in touch with many members and is finding that losses are mounting. Such losses are more typically seen in February / March … this not looking like a ‘normal’ year

So, the message is check your hives now, and if concerned, it might not be too late to rescue them with an Oxalic acid sublimation …using ApiBioxal the approved product of course!

Stores a plenty
No bees

Not a good start to the year!

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