Native black bees have been declared a breed to be promoted and protected by Normandy regional council, which is funding associations to help boost the species.
Present in the region since the last ice age, the black bees, also called wild bees, are threatened by the introduction of commercial bees, especially the hybrid Buckfast bee, which was bred for quick reproduction and higher honey yields.
Pests, including honey bee mites and Asian hornets, also threaten the Norman black bees.
Plan to keep genetic purity of black bee
“The problem is that black bees and Buckfast bees can mate, and so the genetic purity of the black bee risks being lost,” Jean-Marie Godier, the president of one of the associations, Abeille Normande du Calvados, told The Connexion.
“In Normandy and to a certain extent in Brittany, our bees have been protected because the region has never been popular for the transhumance of bees, where keepers load hives on lorries and drive to new areas, like those seeking honey from lavender in Provence, for example.”
Breed more Norman black bee queens
DNA testing is used to identify pure Norman black bee queens and these individuals are then used to breed more black bee queens (queen bees develop when they are fed ‘royal jelly’ a special food, when they are at maggot stage.)
The black bee queens are then sent out to members of the association, who promise not to use hives with other bees within a three kilometre radius of the black bee hives.
“There are many myths about black bees which I have certainly not found true, mainly that they are fiercer and they do not produce as much honey,” said Mr Godier.
“I have been handling black bees with bare hands for 30 years without problems, and some years I have managed to gather 45kg of chestnut flower honey from black bee hives.”
He added: “In my experience it is only when there are hives crossed with hybrid bees that you get aggressive behaviour, by creating hybrids man has caused problems which did not exist before.”
Asian hornet problem needs coordinated solution
Black bees suffer from the same honey bee mites as other bees and need to be treated with pesticide twice a year, and also from the spread of Asian hornets, which arrived in Normandy in the last decade.
Mr Gordier called for more government co-ordination to control Asian hornets saying the piecemeal efforts now delegated to departments was not working in controlling their numbers.
“I was speaking to a friend who lost two hives in a month, every bee was killed by these hornets,” he said.
Normandy breeds of geese, pigs and horses need protection
As well as bees, Normandy has declared 24 other breeds native and in need of protection and promotion: for poultry, the hens Coucou de France, Caumont, Cotentine, Crèvecoeur, Gournay, Le Merlerault and Pavilly;
For geese, Oie normande and Oie de Bavent; and for ducks the Canard de Duclair and Rouen; the rabbits Lapin normand and blanc de Hotot; sheep de l’Avranchin, Cotentin, Roussin and the goat, chèvre des fossés.
Plus there are pigs – Porc de Bayeux and Porc blanc de l’Ouest; horses Percheron and Cob normand; donkeys Ane du Cotentin, Ane normand, and the cattle Vache normande.