Are honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) native to the British Isles?
Biological, historical and archaeological evidence proves that honey bees (Apis mellifera L.) have been present in the British Isles for at least 4000 years, and suggests that they probably entered from southern Europe after the retreat of the last Ice Age. Recent studies show that rather than having been destroyed by disease in the early 20th century, or obliterated by imports of other strains of honey bee, the dark European honey bee Apis mellifera mellifera still exists as genetically distinct populations in various parts of Britain. There is little information available to indicate the extent of any competition between honey bees and other species of bee in Britain, or to quantify the contribution of honey bees to major ecosystems in Britain. There is a need for strategies for conserving rare or endangered bee species to recognise that local strains of honey bee may be equally endangered, and may be equally deserving of conservation effort. All species of bee are worthy of conservation, and management decisions need to be made on a case by case basis, and must be based on a sound understanding of the underlying biology of the ecosystems involved.
Apis mellifera mellifera, dark European honey bee, British Isles, bee conservation.