November 30, 2021

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On an English tree, rare wild bees make a noise

Released Thursday, November 25, 2021 at 07:50 AM.

“Unusually, the queen is laying eggs!” Philip Salpani cheers. Hanging halfway across a centuries-old oak tree in central England, he notices rare wild bees through a small hole in the sturdy trunk.

“It’s a real classroom, it’s amazing, it’s incredible!” About fifteen meters above the grounds of the majestic Blenheim Palace, he continues about this fiery colony.

The 55-year-old South African physiologist, who has long been interested in bees, is adamant: these insects, which he has spent the past 18 months looking for bees in the garden’s ancient forests, are far from them. Normal.

They come from a rare ecosystem – a subspecies that occupies a particular habitat – centuries ago in this area of ​​Oxfordshire – he explains to AFP.

While the DNA test results have not yet been confirmed, the discovery of possible offspring of local bees is already causing excitement in Blenheim and beyond.

These people were believed to have largely disappeared due to disease, pesticides and competition with alien species.

– Up to 500 bees –

Bees play an important role in biodiversity through pollination, which is also important for agriculture.

According to Philip Sulfani, bees are overused to meet human consumption needs, causing harm to the environment: the risk of stress or other pests to bees.

“The bee has developed a hero status because it allows us to manage the bee (…) but we have marketed something that should not be,” he believes.

And native bees are endangered around the world. In the United Kingdom, most of these insects are exotic and live in managed bees, with an estimated one-third of local bees becoming extinct in recent decades, particularly the verruca mite, which was destroyed by the parasite.

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Philippe Sulfani believed that Blenheim’s bees did not appear to be affected and thus they were embraced.

The estate has also proven to be an excellent environment for this ecosystem, with large areas inaccessible to the general public, such as the absence of managed hives or farming using pesticides.

Hundreds of hectares of its ancient trees, mostly preserved, have the largest concentrations of ancient oaks in Europe. Some are 600 years old.

Philip Salpani, a former international cyclist who coaches athletes, began his research there without much confidence.

To his surprise, he counted nearly 50 bees in the trees, surprisingly resistant to winter. He estimates their number could reach 500.

According to him, some bees are 200 years old. “Unfortunately, there are not many places like this.”

– “Original context” –

Blenheim bees are usually smaller, hairy and darker than those inhabited in the UK.

“A bee that is unaware of pesticides, chemicals, and survival stress,” he insists.

Their existence has global implications, he believes. “If we can find local subspecies (…) of bees, we can learn more about the environment and improve farming practices.”

“Whether in Romania, Bulgaria or France, we need to look at the surviving species and understand the factors that affect bees, be it chemicals, pesticides, human interventions.” With the hope of having the “good amount” of pollination essential for life.

Nick Pimbridge, head of the Blenheim Forest Service, said the bees had not been noticed in the three decades he worked at the Blenheim site. “We didn’t really care until Philip came in and pointed out that it’s very unique.”

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According to Rob Stoneman of the Wildlife Foundation, the discovery is “significant”: “it shows the value and complexity of our ancient forests and the need to permanently preserve these unique habitats.”