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John Dews 1928-2011

John Dews kept bees for over 65 years and in my opinion made such a great contribution to the craft that I have dedicated this page to him, so his work will be more widely recognised.

John was a Yorkshireman born at Osset and spent much of his working life as a primary school headmaster. When he retired, he moved to Iburndale and joined the Whitby and District BKA.

He started beekeeping at the age of 14 and became interested in improving his bees after they became aggressive, due to his queens being crossed with the drones of imported queens other local beekeepers were using. He developed morphometric techniques and devised the Dews Plot, also known as the scattergram, where the discoidal shift was plotted against the cubital index for recording wing venation measurements. John Dews and Eric Milner set the criteria for Apis mellifera mellifera that is widely used. Until more reliable DNA techniques became available and affordable to beekeepers, morphometry was the only technique available. It was John who thought of mounting wings onto a 35mm slide for projecting onto a screen.

John Dews was passionate about the native bee and wrote many articles, as well as the books "Breeding Better Bees" with Eric Milner and "The Dark European Honey Bee" with Eric Milner and Prof. Friedrich Ruttner. Both books are well respected by serious bee breeders.

Following work by Alois Wallner in Austria, John devoted much of his time in his latter years to selectively breeding his bees to improve their grooming of varroa. The official advice in dealing with varroa was chemical or IPM, but in personal correspondence John told me he had made huge improvements to his bees by selection. That work is being continued by Whitby BKA.

The Whitby BKA have produced a small book of some of the documents that John Dews wrote, or was associated with. It is probably not as complete as it could be, as there was urgency to make a presentation to John before he died. This was only a small print run, but I hope further material can be found and a second edition be made more widely available.

I never met John Dews, but I corresponded with him by email on many occasions. He was helpful to me when I discovered the queen problems and was supportive when others weren't. He was very helpful in interpreting my wing morphometry results, even when some of the patterns were different from those he had previously seen. I am in an area where the bees are heavily mongrelised and John encouraged me to continue to improve what I had, especially as I had already made good progress, rather than parachute in queens from outside - something I was surprised at, especially when others were saying you can't improve mongrels.

I knew little of his beekeeping, but I suspect from his correspondence he was very good. He was certainly very knowledgeable and thoughtful. I quote from the Whitby BKA book "John's careful, methodical handling of his gentle bees are an example to novice and experienced beekeepers alike".

In writing the above I have used material from the Whitby BKA book already mentioned and an obituary by Dorian Pritchard.

Roger Patterson.

Page created 14/09/2015

Page updated 17/11/2020