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County Beekeeping Instructors (CBIs)

Now, sadly, a thing of the past

When I started beekeeping in 1963 many counties had a County Beekeeping Instructor (CBI), although some preferred to call themselves advisors or lecturers. There is little information available, so I am writing this page based on my own knowledge and what I have gleaned from what I think are reliable sources.

CBIs were employed mainly by county councils and it was their job to teach beekeeping, not only to beekeepers, but everyone, including adults and children. They were usually based at the county agricultural/horticultural school or college, some with quite extensive apiaries for teaching purposes. This usually worked well as all the facilities such as classrooms were nearby.

I don't know much about the individual arrangements, but I think they varied quite a lot, depending on circumstances locally. Some counties were large, some small, some rich, others poor, some rural, others less so. In some cases the CBI was part time and may have had other tasks. I know of one who was also a supply teacher, another an Audio Visual Aids (AVA) officer and several others who lectured or demonstrated on agriculture and horticulture. In some counties the role was so large the CBI had an assistant.

I don't know the origin of the post, but they shouldn't be confused with references in old books and publications to "County Experts" or "Experts", who I understand were simply the "better" beekeepers in BKAs, although in reality they were probably people of private means who could afford the time to visit beekeepers and advise them, probably on an unpaid basis. I have recently been lent a copy of Volume X1X of "The Beekeepers Record" of 1901/1902. This is a hefty book amounting to around 400 pages that is a compilation of the 24 monthly journals of those two years. "Experts" are mentioned in many places, but CBIs not at all, suggesting the positions were created some time after that.

It is my guess the post of CBI was created some time between WW1 and WW2, probably closer to the former and may have been before, although not as early as 1902. Someone will find out the real circumstances, but until then, let me apply a bit of "Patterson's Logic".

I don't know how many counties had a CBI, but I have certainly seen reference to 40, probably several more. It seems strange to me that 40 odd counties should decide within a fairly short time that they need organised beekeeping tuition in their county, especially when the county BKAs were providing their own "Experts", so perhaps the initiative or directive was from central government. My guess would be some sort of national crisis may have triggered it off, perhaps WW1 or the "Isle of Wight" epidemic. At one time there was a strong view that counties had a statutory obligation to provide beekeeping education, although I have never been able to find any proof. Perhaps there was and may still be, but it is being ignored. It seems logical to me that CBIs may have been a natural progression from the "Experts".

In my early years of beekeeping the craft was in serious decline. Those who had started beekeeping during WW2 had largely disappeared and there was plenty of secondhand kit. I remember CBIs doing good work visiting individual beekeepers and BKAs, arranging field days and conferences, giving talks to non-beekeeping organisations like WIs, young farmers clubs, horticultural societies, etc. One very important service was disease diagnosis. Many set up observation hives in schools and either maintained them on a regular basis or got the teachers or volunteers to keep an eye on them.

Many counties had conventions, summer schools, courses, etc, that were organised by the CBI. In those days there were a large number of knowledgeable and experienced beekeepers who lectured at these events, including of course a lot of CBIs from other counties. Not only were they good practical beekeepers, they knew the theory too. In the 1950s the National Diploma in Beekeeping (NDB) was set up to provide a qualification appropriate for CBIs that was above the highest level that was awarded by National BKAs.

From the late 1960s onwards there were a lot of cost cutting measures that took place in local government, not always with too much thought about the consequences. The positions of CBIs was fairly high up the list to cut, especially as there were few beekeepers in positions to influence any debate. Some of the agricultural colleges were privatised, so they had to consider their finances. In a very short time we had gone from a healthy pool of CBIs to virtually none. Some CBIs were made redundant, some reduced to part time, others not replaced when they retired. The result was that the teaching of beekeeping had been transferred from professionals to BKAs with volunteer amateurs doing the teaching in 10 years or less.

More research is needed on this and it needs a better historian than me to do it. Perhaps county councils do have an obligation to provide beekeeping education. If you have any information on CBIs please Email me.

Roger Patterson.