West Cornwall Beekeepers’ Association is 75 on 9th May 2018
A short history of the Association
Cornwall BKA was established in 1919, the first Chairman being a West Cornwall man from Towednack, but the relationship between the west of Cornwall and the rest of the county was tense and resulted in the formation of WCBKA in 1943 at a meeting in Penzance Guildhall, but ‘it was agreed that owing to the difficulties of transport etc (petrol rationing, Ed) no definite arrangements could be made’ for meetings.
I have had access to the minutes of AGM’s and some committee meetings since 1943 and to back copies of An Hes since 1980, and they throw up some interesting things, some unique to the times and others perennial and still relevant today.
The relationship between the two Associations was a knotty problem for some years. Within two months of the foundation of WCBKA, a letter was received from CBKA suggesting a joint meeting to which ‘a deputation of officers’ was sent as representatives! And in 1946, closer links were proposed, and then a merger whilst ‘maintaining our identity, possibly a federation of Cornwall Beekeepers,’ but in 1949 any discussion of ‘fusion’ with CBKA was apparently brought to a close as there was no wish for it. But then what happened? The minutes of the 1964 AGM records that it was of the ‘South West Cornwall Beekeepers’ which sent a member to a Cornwall Group Council, and members sent their subscriptions to the ‘County Treasurer.’ The following year, the AGM is of the ‘West Cornwall Beekeepers’ Group’ with a request to the county that county meetings be held more centrally eg in Truro, and asking if more than one representative could attend. By 1967, all was restored with the AGM recorded as being of West Cornwall BKA. So what had happened? Was there a brief amalgamation or less likely, was it a new minutes’ secretary unfamiliar with the politics of beekeeping? Since then, although there have been occasional mutterings of amalgamation, there have been no further serious discussion. For many years, there was a coolness if not hostility between the two associations, but about ten years ago the relationship became more cordial and collaborative which continues, while we remain fiercely independent.
While mentioning the politics of Beekeeping, in 1948 it was first mooted that the association join the BBKA, but it is not recorded when this actually happened. By 1974 Ken Gilmore was our ADM representative and, subsequently it was reported that the ADM was ‘very badly run and dragged on all day’! In 1986 it was noted that the BBKA is remote from associations. Plus ca change…
While we ponder the threat of the arrival of the Asian Hornet and, possibly Small Hive Beetle, it is worth recalling the years before and after Varroa arrived in Britain. In 1982 Varroa ‘was not yet detected,’ but was ‘taken seriously at national level’ and in 1986 it is mentioned that ‘Varroa is moving across Europe.’ In anticipation of its arrival, beekeepers were invited to send hive floor debris to a national laboratory for examination. In 1981, BDI announced that they were prepared to pay out for a period of 12 months if hives were destroyed because of Varroa. So it was hoped that when it arrived, it could be contained by quarantine and destruction. Sounds like SHB in Italy? In the event, it was first reported in Devon in 1992, first reported in Cornwall in the Bodmin area in 1993, and in March of that year was already reported to be present in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Bedford and Lincolnshire, presumably facilitated by beekeepers moving hives. By 1997, Varroa had spread into West Cornwall.
Foulbrood, mainly American , was endemic in the county in the early days of the association. In
1944, the War Agricultural Committee and the Ministry of Food made sugar available for beekeepers and, as it was noted that there was a considerable amount of foul brood in the county at that time, the Association proposed that sugar should only be given to those members with moveable frame hives.
Several topics have prevailed throughout the life of the association until the present day. As early as 1944, the Association was approached enquiring about giving lectures and demonstrations in
schools, but it was not apparently until 1960 that a field day was held at Penzance Girls Grammar
School, and in 1961 at St Ives Secondary Modern, when it was also recommended that ‘the
association should co-operate as much as possible with the schools group.’ Hives were already in
Cape Cornwall School by the time that Fred Buckingham took up an appointment there. (Personal
communication) and he was responsible for arranging association meetings at the school.
In 1956 it was suggested that there be a ‘junior section for 16 and under’ and the secretary was
instructed to write to local schools seeking interest, but it was not until 2016 that a junior
membership class was incorporated into our constitution!
Mick Jordan suggested an Association apiary in 1983, but it was not until 1996-7 that the apiary was established at Rosewarne, when the Beginners’ Course was first run by James Kilty and Rodger Dewhurst. In the early days of the Rosewarne apiary, association meetings took place there, but that apiary was subsequently used exclusively for the course. We opened our association apiary at Chy Vellan in 2014.
The library started with four books in 1943, increasing to ten in 1963,and is now in excess of 300,
one of the best furnished beekeeping association libraries in the country.
Bulk purchase is nothing new! In 1948, the association purchased equipment from Knights in St
Austell, Mick Jordan offered bulk purchase of honey jars during the time when he sold equipment, and in 1975, three and a half tons of sugar was purchased for members.
In 1958 the association wanted a section at Royal Cornwall Show; records do not say whether they
Association meetings were first held at St Piran’s Hall, Goldsithney in 1975.
A Bit of a Do, the brain child of Andy Reeve was an annual event by 1992 (when was the first?) at
which many eminent speakers lectured, Dr Colin Butler (Rothamsted, famous for his work on
pheromones), Dr Eva Crane (wrote the seminal books on Honey and bee boles), Len Davie (Regional Bee Inspector), Len Heath (known for his book on Chalkbrood, still the standard text), John Yates (who wrote the study notes still used by students doing the BBKA exams), later Clive de Bruyn, Steve Martin (Varroa then, Asian Hornet now), Norman Carreck, and the county was fortunate to have Harrison Ashforth (Ashforth Feeder, previous President of the BBKA) as the County Bee Officer appointed in 1974, and who also ran courses.
This first version of A Bit of a Do dwindled and died in the early years of the century due to lack of support, but it was felt that owing to the travelling involved for Cornish beekeepers to attend
conferences elsewhere in the country, it was important to stage one in Cornwall. So in 2009 it was
resurrected in conjunction with Cornwall BKA, since when it has flourished. In that year, it was held in Carnon Downs village hall, subsequently moving to Truro School and more recently, to Truro College. Celia Davis was the speaker that year and we have continued to attract speakers of national, indeed of international standing.
As now, there were concerns about the importation of honey and bees. In 1951, it was suggested
that foul brood could be brought into the area by the imports of honey from Australia especially if
the dirty drums were open to foraging bees. And in 1978 (before Varroa) concerns were raised about the risk of introducing disease with imported bees.
1995 saw the first reports of concerns about Imidacloprid, the first neonicotinoid. It had been
marketed in France as Gaucho and first used on sunflowers in 1994. The following year, French
beekeepers reported concerns about the nectar flow. And so it goes on.
But it is worth noting that in 1981 the EEC as it was then made grant money available for winter
feeding in order to support beekeepers; the association received £934.35. There was a great deal of
discussion about what to do with the money, whether to pay for speakers, for queen rearing
equipment, or for library books. It is not clear from the records what it was spent on, but the
association coffers appear to have subsequently improved significantly, with the opening of a
building society account. It is possible that it was this capital that allowed us to set up and equip Chy Vellan apiary 33 years later! Having said that, one member, Mr Putwain, resigned at the time, saying that the money should have been given to the members.
The gender balance of beekeepers has changed significantly over the years, with more women
becoming active members. In 1984, it was suggested that ‘classes for the ladies’ ie cakes and
cookery be introduced at our honey show, and in 1977, volunteers for ‘tea ladies’ were requested. (I can remember requests at meetings for the ‘ladies’ to be excused so that they could get the tea.
For many years the Bee Notes in An Hes were written by a wise and witty member, Raymond Ripley, an excellent beekeeper who, commenting on low numbers of members attending apiary meetings classified beekeepers as :-
New Beginners who know nothing,
Beginning Beginners who know the barest essentials and think that is all they need to know,
Intermediate Beginners who realise that there is more to know, so they attend, and
Experienced Beginners who know that they will never know it all, so always attend!
Which are you?
I should like to thank Fred Buckingham, Barbara Barnes and Jenny Lewis for additional information.
I should be delighted if any member who wishes to comment, correct, add or amend this potted
history of our association, to please contact me.
Anne McQuade 23-3-2018