Andrew Abrahams, bee-keeper on the Isle of Colonsay (Scotland – the U.K.)

source wikipédia

source wikipédia

We arrive on the Isle of Colonsay with an only one objective: to meet Andrew Abrahams and his British black bees. Remember, the bee-keeper whose Stanesby family spoke to us a few days ago! The weather is nice, we have time since ferries leave each day in our direction. So we let the crowd of hurried tourist scattering and ask the only small bar of the port where lives the coveted man. Of course they know him, with 120 inhabitants at the very most on this part of the island, it is difficult to pass unnoticed. One more cross on our map, we take our bikes to the South. Andrew and his wife live with 5km of the port (the most distant point!) with fifteen minutes by walk on a beach at the end of a road where we have to leave our bikes.

It is not easy to meet a bee-keeper whereas the weather is nice… he works in his hives whereas we meet his wife sitting in the sun. We buy him two pots (one for us, the other one for Vincent, Elsa’s father) and take an appointment later with Andrew, when the bees will sleep.

It is 7 p.m, high tide and a man around fifty years old comes with a smile after having driven away the indiscreet tourists from his tractor. “It is rusted but it is not abandoned ; my tractor works perfectly! I should think about putting a panel in front of it.” With these words, we discover the man that we were looking for. He was informed of our presence by a telephone call from his wife, we introduce ourselves. “Let’s talk about bees. We can see the hives tomorrow, we can discuss this evening with a beer if you come back in one hour.” We will be there !

Andrew Abrahams is professional bee-keeper since 1977 and has between 50 and 60 hives according to the years divided into 8 parks in the two islands (Colonsay and Oronsay). He uses “British National Hive” which produce every year on average 10kg of honey by hive. The last year, catastrophic in Europe for many bee-keepers, the British national average fell to 3kg/hive.

Between two mouthfuls of a 12 years of old Bowmore Whisky, he tells us the story of his bees, the British black bees. Until the Forties, they were the most widespread everywhere in Europe. They are the original bees of Europe however, during the Second World War, the Nazi undertook to replace them by a crossed specie more aggressive and more sensitive to the varroa but more powerful. The genetic hybridization of the bees in Europe gave chances to the black bee only in insular or moved back spaces(the islands of Colonsay, Ouessant and Norway are some examples).The black bee has however advantages in these regions subjected to difficult climates, by collecting pollen they can create important reserves of “bread”(honey-pollen mixture) to survive long winters and windy weather. Some bee-keepers use these bees to collect the bread of bee and resell it in the form of capsules for its many virtues. Andrew insists on the importance of the protection of these bees which, on their islands, are also protected from the infections and new predators such as the varroa and the Asian hornet. On the other hand, he must find a way of keeping enough bees year by years in order not to resort to the importation of external species which would hybrider its bees and import certainly diseases. Since 8 years he puts pressure on the Scottish government to create a nature reserve on the island of Colonsay in order to protect his bees. This project by prohibiting the importation of other species of bees on Colonsay, should succeed in August if the Parliament’s vote is positive. In France, this kind of initiatives already exist on l’île d’Ouessant pour ces mêmes abeilles.

By proposing us a shower we could not refuse, he continues on the characteristics of his trade with Colonsay. He started more than 35 years ago as a seasonal worker in a large apiarian farmil and he quickly set up his own business to supplement his incomes of oyster culturist. At that time, the ensured lenient weather of May and June allowed him, in the Eighties to start: “It would be difficult to begin today, the weather does not allow all the mistakes I could make at the time! The weather became too unstable and it is necessary to seize any opportunities. The “Bee-days” (hot and sunny days, without wind) are rare and you have to dot it at the right moment otherwise you will have nothing at all!” Therefore, he must surround his hives with polystyrene, so that they remain dry, if not the wind cools wet hives. However, for him Colonsay is unquestionably a place favourable with the bee-keeping. It is difficult, certainly, but the absence of intensive farming on the island helps him. This kind of climate is difficult for the bee-keepers. It is necessary to be an expert and anticipate: “The bee-keeping in Colonsay it is like the bee-keeping in Europe in the Forties!” When the summer is good (many Bee-days), Andrew can do a first collects at the beginning of August but generally he makes only one of them a year after the season of the ferns, at the end of September/beginning of October.

Andrew chose this job with passion and whereas we ask him if he makes other products that honey, he explains us on what, financially, the cosmetics could bring him by selling them to the tourists, that would be certainly even more profitable than oysters…but it is not really his way, he doesn’t want to do it. He just makes his honey with love and sells it very easily.This honey, which melts and runs in the throat without any roughness with a light wax odor which returns in the nose and brings again to a spoonful. We are seduced.

Andrew and his bees

Flowers gathered nectar and pollen on the island: ferns, sycamores, hawthorn, willow, brambles, clover, queen of the meadows, thyme,…

Find pictures of the Isle of Colonsay here!

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6 Responses to Andrew Abrahams, bee-keeper on the Isle of Colonsay (Scotland – the U.K.)

  1. Helmut Bose says:

    Hi Andrew , i met You in Parksville on Vancouver Island Canada , You gave an excellent Presentation on the Black Bee.I am an amature Beekeeper with only 40 Years of experience , I would be very interested in seeing if the Black bee would be suitable for the Island. If there is any way to get some Nooks or at least some of Your Queens send over here. Thanks , Helmut.

  2. carol blain says:

    Hi Andrew
    I am a small scale beekeeper in North Wales. We have the same problems with imported bees which are not hardy enough for our mountain and forest climate.
    We have tried local (though not pure) black queen rearing with little success. Do you rear queens, and if so do you sell them.
    Happy beekeeping and good to hear that you got the status you need.

  3. Gerry McKee, Burnaby, B.C., Canada says:

    Andrew, would you please explain if you need to control Varroa and if so, what steps are taken. Would insulation of your hives reducing loss of colony heat, increase number of field bees ? How many years do your queens live ? How do you requeen ? Thank you.

  4. roger bines says:

    Both my wife and I are beekeepers and visited Colonsay 2 years ago. We have planned to visit as many Scottish Islands as possible and are now on the Isle of Islay and then move on to Jura.

    We literally bumped into Andrew one day whilst driving along one of Colonsay’s narrow roads and narrowly avoided a major accident. Needless to say their was plenty of bee talk and from that moment continually met him around the island either attending his bees or oyster farming.

    His honey is delicious but unfortunately stocks soon ran out after letting friends taste some purchases and giving away jars as presents.

    We wish you well on your travels and do let us know when you complete your adventure.

    • Elsa&Ewan says:

      Our small stock of ‘Colonsay Honey’ ran too soon out too ;) we are now looking for other delicious honeys, now in France, then will come the south of Europe and Morocco and asia. It seems that beekeeping is something that a lot of cultures (maybe all) have in common.
      Do you now if the project of making Colonsay a ‘Sanctuary for the black bees” has been accepted by the scottish parlement?
      Bye and thank you for following us :)

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