All beekeepers will be aware of the important work carried out in the last century by Brother Adam and his helpers at the Benedictine monastery of Buckfast Abbey. Less is known, however, of beekeeping since 1933 at Buckfast’s sister Benedictine monastery of Douai Abbey where an interest in the craft continues under the present beekeeper and monk, Dom Gabriel Wilson.
He suggests in MINDING THE BEES – A Vision For Apiculture at Douai Abbey that the Buckfast strain is no longer the perfect bee for a world that has changed for honeybees and for us all. He questions Brother Adam’s fundamental principle that “the perfect honeybee does not exist” but needs to be created. From this statement followed Brother Adam’s extensive Buckfast breeding programme in response to the mysterious Isle of Wight crisis that blighted British beekeeping just over a century ago. The author suggests that we have been slow to learn important lessons from that crisis and from a century and half of bee breeding to perfect the honeybee that has brought us to new and unexpected issues, such as the varroa mite and other emerging or re-emerging pests and diseases. ‘Minding the bees’ is a call to pay attention and to learn from history.
Mother Nature has taken 30 million years to perfect the Western honeybee, adapting its various subspecies such as Apis Mellifera mellifera (Amm) in subtle ways to its local environment. This adaptation continues through natural selection under pressure for survival, which presents an opportunity for a better future in beekeeping. For Gabriel Wilson, then, the perfect honeybee for our times does not need to be created; for him it exists already in the developing stocks of locally adapted bees kept treatment-free at Douai Abbey and in many other places where beekeepers like Dom Gabriel contribute in their own small way to minding the bees for the future.