A TYPE of honeybee, thought to be extinct, has been found
alive and well in a small church in Northumberland.
It had been thought that the British black bee had been wiped
out by a strain of Spanish flu in 1919, but a small hive has been
found breeding in the roof of Holy Trinity, Whitfield, 800 feet up
in the Pennines. It is thought that they have been there for up to
The rare bees, Apis mellifera mellifer, were discovered
after some dead specimens were found on the floor of the church.
Experts called in to investigate a possible nest found hundreds in
the roof. But a closer look revealed that the bees were darker than
The conservation officer for the Bee Improvement and Bee
Breeders' Association, Dorian Pritchard, said: "They are generally
a lot darker than the European bee, with pale, thin stripes across
the abdomen. It takes a specialist beekeeper to recognise them.
These were the bees native to Britain after the Ice Age, but in the
1830s we started to import foreign bees. An epidemic wiped out 90
per cent of the population after the First World War."
Experts had planned to coax the bees out into a hive in order to
rehome them, but the bees refused to move.
The Rector of Allendale, the Revd Jonathan Russell, whose parish
includes Holy Trinity, said churchgoers had not particularly
noticed the bees. "The church is in a countrified spot next to a
beck, and you don't notice the odd insect in the church. It's nice
to think that they have survived here in this church."
Another of his churches in the valley is home to a rare type of
He said that parishioners were happy for the hive to be left in
the roof, although the resident bees far outnumber the current
congregation. "They don't bother us, and we don't bother them. I'm
sure apiarists of the world will descend on us to have a look. I
hope they might leave a donation - or perhaps a jar of honey."