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Artificial Hibernation Trials of the British Honeybee

Our Kent based pilot for the artificial hibernation of honeybees was successful in the winter of 2018/19 and so we proceeded with a much bigger, ongoing trial.

We anticipate all colonies surviving the winter hibernation, thus solving the 25% average winter colony losses suffered by UK and US hobbyist beekeepers. Commercial bee farmers in the UK and the US also suffer similar losses.  

This experiment will have long term implications for commercial bee farming.  

As our winters become more erratic and unpredictable, we need a viable and practical way to keep our bees alive.

Why Artificial Hibernation?

By artificially hibernating small, medium and large colonies, we aim to better understand how they maintain themselves within the colony, in the dark, unable to fly or defecate for three months.

The spring swarming process requires a strong and vigorous colony. It is a vital part of the bee’s natural life cycle and the smaller autumn colonies usually die out during the winter, failing to regenerate after hibernation and renew next year’s populations.

This ever-decreasing cycle of colony reduction must be negatively affecting our wild bee colony stocks.

The gathering of winter hibernation sensory research information has never been achieved before.

Twenty-four-seven hourly segments of changes in weight, temperature, humidity and sound from within the hive is a totally new research information source.  

Where are the trial hives?

The 30 hives were centrally located for 3 months (Winter 2019/20) in an air conditioned chiller unit running at 6 degrees centigrade simulating relatively mild winter conditions.

Then, after being sent back to their original locations, awakening and returning to normal spring flying patterns, we will monitor how the bees develop and grow during the summer.

The aim is to understand how varying sizes of colonies maintain their core overwintering temperatures, how the bees age, and how much food they consume.