An astonishing discovery has been made in the ancient British woodlands of Blenheim Palace. Bee conservationist Filipe Salbany recently found 50 colonies of bees which are believed to be the descendants of indigenous wild honeybees which used to forage the English countryside.
Previously, researchers assumed that all of the country’s indigenous wild honeybees had been wiped out by disease and invasive species, but these smaller, furrier, darker bees seem to indicate that some descendants are indeed alive and thriving, despite the threat of parasites like varroa mite. “These bees are quite unique in that they live in nests in very small cavities, as bees have for millions of years, and they have the ability to live with the disease. They have had no treatment for the varroa mite – yet they’re not dying off,” said Salbany.
Salbany is still awaiting DNA confirmation of his discovery, but he’s confident based on size and vein patterns that these bees are indeed a native species. These resilient bees have been quietly adapting to their environment for generations. One of the nests he found was at least 200 years old.
The Blenheim estate is a relatively undisturbed environment and hosts no managed beehives, which Salbany thinks has helped these creatures survive. The discovery of this population, which totals 800,000 wild bees is critical for ensuring that they remain protected, and also demonstrates the potential of strategies like protecting old-growth forests and rewilding rural regions. As for their honey, Salbany says it tastes floral and light from the bees’ diet of dandelions, blackthorn, and sunflowers.
Image source: The Guardian, Filipe Salbany