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Wisborough Green BKA

My local BKA

This is my local BKA that I joined as a teenager when I started beekeeping in 1963. We were formed in 1947 as a division of Sussex BKA, but with other divisions withdrew in 1973 to form the West Sussex BKA.

Currently there are four divisions in WSBKA, Chichester and Worthing that cover the coastal area, Central Sussex (that used to be called Horsham and Crawley), that covers the east and north east of West Sussex. They are all higher population density areas. Wisborough Green covers much of the rural area in between and to the Surrey border to the north and the Hampshire border to the west. This does mean we have different situations, with many of our members having much further to travel to meetings than the others do.

We are surrounded by 8 other BKAs, all largely town based, 15-25 miles away. Some of our members live in south Surrey and east Hampshire.

One of our founding members and the secretary when I started beekeeping in 1963 was a man called George Wakeford. He was born and brought up on a farm and had been involved with the land all his life. At that time he was largely a full time beekeeper with odd jobs during the slack season. He looked after bees for other people and I reckoned he was in charge of over 400 colonies. He was one of the most knowledgeable genuine countrymen I have known. There wasn't much he didn't know or couldn't turn his hand to.

George wasn't a good or knowledgeable technical beekeeper, but he knew enough to be able to deal with most situations he was faced with. He was, however, the best handler of bees I have seen by a very long way. He never wore any protective clothing, but could handle any colony with ease, using just one of the small straight nosed smokers and a hive tool. He would be ridiculed by some of today's beekeepers, but in practical terms he was streets ahead of anyone else I have seen. George was a quiet man who wasn't a very good teacher, simply because he wasn't aware of how good he was and thought everybody knew as much as he did. I learnt a huge amount simply by watching him and much of my own beekeeping is based on his.

George Wakeford never read a bee book in his life. Because he knew the "basics" his methods were simple and he would have been flummoxed by some of the over complicated methods that are taught these days. George taught me the simple method of swarm control that was the only one he ever used. It is simple, it works and I have named it the "Wakeford Method". I have used it all my beekeeping life and apart from the odd occasion I see no reason to use anything else. I come across it occasionally elsewhere, but George used it much more than anyone else.

One of the strengths of Wisborough Green BKA is our teaching apiary that has been on the same farm since the mid 1960s. It has had its ups and downs, but at times during the summer we have up to 60 colonies of different sizes, varying from queen mating nucs to full colonies. These are all used for teaching. I am currently apiary manager. We meet every 10-11 days during the summer and we have 10 approved demonstrators.

Our teaching concentrates on the "basics" and good handling skills. We recognise that every beekeeper has to handle bees, so we insist on our members treating bees with care and respect at meetings.

We only teach one way and as all our demonstrators have been taught by us this makes things easy because everyone knows what they should be doing. This might appear strange to an outsider, but it avoids confusion and the usual opposing views that confuse members who ask a question. Once we have given the basic knowledge and skills the members are able to understand other methods. We use native type non-prolific bees and single brood box nationals with castellated spacers.

Roger Patterson.