History of the NDB

Formation of the National Diploma in Beekeeping Examination Board

In the years following the Second World War, the Beekeeping Education Association (BEA, later renamed the Apicultural Education Association in 1976) continued to be well served by full and part time beekeeping advisors, mainly based at agricultural colleges. The colleges were laying down plans for extension and the first post-war graduates in agriculture were entering teaching.

It was not unnatural for the beekeepers attached to the colleges to feel overshadowed. In about 1951 there were the first mutterings in the ranks as to why the beekeepers should not have qualifications that would grant them some degree of ‘parity of esteem’, driven on by Fred Richards and Miss Jollyman – County Beekeeping Instructor (CBI) for Essex who produced preparatory work in 1951 but had unfortunately died by the inaugural meeting in 1955.

Fred Richards, an ex-policeman and CBI for Norfolk between 1946 and 1973, was a prominent, if not, dominant member of the BEA, while nearby Frank Franklin was the staff inspector for Rural Studies for schools, and a beekeeper in his own right. The choice of John Sergeant, capable advisor for Kent as the Board’s first secretary was also a fortunate choice.

It is certain that without this coming together of these areas of experience, the negotiations for the creation of a new qualification to serve this particular section of further education would have taken much longer to gain the official approval of the Department of Education.

Early years and clarifications

The Board originally was made up of one representative from the following bodies: Department of Education and Science, MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, England), MAFF (Wales), BEA, BFA (Bee Farmers Association), BBKA, SBA (Scottish Beekeepers Association), WBDA (Welsh Beekeepers Association), Royal Agricultural Society of England, Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, Scottish Education Department, Association of Agricultural Education Staffs, and IBRA (International Bee Research Association).

The object at that time was to ‘promote, establish and conduct examinations for a National Diploma in Beekeeping and the United Certificate in Beekeeping (the latter and lesser award now discontinued).

At the 5th meeting of the Board in 1955 the option of further award was suggested namely NDB (Hons) for an original research project. A number of thesis were submitted but to date this has never been awarded. One by Clive de Bruyn is still in the pipeline.
There was some clarification of the subsequent NDB developments when the following letter from the acting BBKA chairman appeared in the January 27th edition 1955 of the British Bee Journal (BBJ).

“Diploma Added Attraction.
Two years ago the idea of a Diploma, a combination of qualification in Beekeeping and Horticulture, was mooted. The Examination Board was consulted and turned down any suggestion of a special Examination in Beekeeping, different to what is already offered and which is held in the highest regard. The Senior certificate of the BBKA has been accepted by the Beekeeping Education Association as the essential beekeeping qualification required for the proposed County Beekeeping Advisor’s diploma. For our part, all candidates will be required to take, or have taken, the Senior examination, set by us, in accordance with our Prospectus and Syllabus and conditions. Equivalent examination of other BK Association, e.g. Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, are accepted to qualify to take the Senior Examination. We do not accept any equivalent for our Senior certificate. The Lecturers and Judging qualifications, in addition, will be classed as Honour to the Diploma. In addition, the BEA will add other beekeeping questions, not covered in our syllabus. The BBKA will issue Senior certificates to those who pass the BBKA section. Far from our Senior certificate becoming of less value, this Diploma, a composite certificate of two allied subjects, will enhance its value, and will encourage many to further in the craft. Let me ask all interested to send in their application forms to their local secretary, or Mr F E Needham, BBKA Examinations Board Secretary, 5 St Bartholomews Road, Nottingham.”

It is not surprising that F S Franklin, chairman of the NDB Examinations Board, felt obliged to reply in the following month, as follows:

“Bit of Bungling over NDB
It would be a pity if the Acting Chairman of the BBKA Examinations Board should have caused quite unwittingly no doubt, any misconceptions in the minds of readers when they read his letter, ‘Diploma Added Attraction’, in the British Bee Journal of 27th. He really should have been sure of the facts, particularly as he could have, a wise friend to hand in the person of the late Mr Bartle, who was the representative of the NDB Examinations Board – which is quite an independent body. Mr Bartle was the embodiment of wisdom, tact and common sense; with him, the welfare of the craft came first. We shall miss him. Now for the misconceptions;

  1.  At no time was it mooted that the Diploma should be ‘a combination of qualifications in Bee-keeping and in Horticulture’. What was, and is implied is that the candidates shall be excellent craftsmen, possessing detailed knowledge of bee flora as applied to agriculture generally.
  2. It is true that the Senior certificate of the BBKA has been accepted by the Examinations Board – a body quite distinct from the BEA which, however, is represented on the Board in the same way as the BBKA. Mr Berry obviously assumes that the BEA is the body responsible for the new diploma. The BEA, to its credit, sponsored initially the move to establish a National Diploma in Beekeeping and gives its independence full support.
  3. It is difficult to understand how Mr Berry came to think of the NDB as a ‘County Beekeepers Advisers Diploma’, the latter for purpose of national recognition could not and would not have been on par with the NDH, NDA and NDD. As formulated, the National Diploma will be open to all who qualify whether County Beekeeping Instructors or not.”

Early NDB passes, 1955 – 1969

In the event the first pass list of six successes in 1955 reads ‘Allen, Ashforth, Clark, Mills, Richards and Walker’, none of these being exactly shrinking violets, but each one capable of filling the hall at Association annual meetings. Incidentally, Mrs R E Clark was the first woman to gain the diploma until Miss Avey in 1959. There was a long, long wait until Mrs M Thomas was the single success in 1982.

Harry Allen wrote regular column Combings for the BBJ and was CBI for Warwickshire. Harrison Ashforth the Gloucestershire CBI, designed the Ashforth hive feeder (using a design modified from one used by David Rowse). Mrs Clark representing Surrey, was prominent in BBKA activities. John Mills at East Yorkshire Beverly, left in around 1965 for Canada. Hebden was beekeeping advisor for the West Riding and replaced by Bill Bielby in 1964. Fred Richards continued to dominate the scene and expressed his pride in the new diploma by claiming it was ‘equal to a degree’. John Walker newly appointed as the Lindsey CBI, rose in the ranks to become the National Beekeeping Officer, replacing Philip Milne as Beekeeping Specialist initially at Rothamsted Lodge. John Walker was later responsible for the move to Luddington, (the precursor to the National Bee Unit at York). All in all, they were a formidable group of beekeepers. Fred Richards was CBI for Norfolk between 1946 and 1973.

Within the next ten years many diploma holders, Richards, Hender, Deans (North of Scotland Beekeeping Advisor), Wilbrahm, Swarbrick, Ashton, Lingold (Assistant National Beekeeping Specialist), Jenner, Atkinson and Walker carried out excellent work within their local areas and as part of the Ministry Bee Group of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, producing may of the original Advisory booklets, such as Beekeeping No 9, Honey from hive to Market No 134, Diseases of Bees No 100. This group recommended to the Minister of MAFF that the Foul Broods be made notifiable diseases, resulting in the original Foul Brood Disease of Bees Order.

John Atkinson (1960) initially worked for Madoc of Norfok the CBI for Shropshire before becoming principle disease officer at Trascowed. John Atkinson ran the training of disease officers as well as the analysis of combs. Both John Atkinson and John Walker worked for ADAS as a team. John Atkinson’s main interest after retirement was isolation mating and instrumental insemination. His book Background to Bee Breeding. is an inspiration to queen raisers.

Ted Hooper (1960) initially working for Rowse Honey farm, became CBI for Essex in 1962 until he retired in 1984 passing this post on to Clive de Bruyn (1976). Ted wrote and co-authored a number of bee books, the most commonly used by beekeepers Guide to Bees and Honey. Clive wrote Practical Beekeeping and co-authored The New Varroa Handbook and Spray Liaison. Frimston (1964) a solicitor wrote a book Bees and Neighbours and acted as solicitor to the BBKA. Stevens (1965) CBI for Kent followed by Devon, wrote Alphabetical Guide for Bee Keepers, Sims (1966) wrote 60 Years with Bees. Geoff Hopkinson (1960, Schools Inspector for Staffordshire) supported examinations with advice and providing a venue for BBKA examination setting at Rodbaston College and with Ted Hooper rewrote the syllabii for the BBKA and the NDB supported by the other CBI’s.

1970’s and the Advanced Course

By the 1970 the numbers of beekeepers began to decline and with the decline the number of NDB candidates. In addition, there had been certain reductions in the number of full-time beekeeping officers. In December 1972 Fred Richards, acting secretary, and Jack Sergeant, then Chairman, recommended Reg Gove 1968 as secretary. Reg was a member of the Central Association Committee, and proof reader for Brother Adam. The first duty of the new secretary was to face a certain drying up of NDB candidates. There were just three examinations between 1969 and 1982, with just six successful candidates; Mobus (1970, Bees Education Officer for Auchencruive), Roberts (1971), Crudwell (1972, CBI for Warwickshire), Welch (1976), de Bruyn (1976), and Thomas (1982) who followed McLean to become BBKA Moderator.

Through Reg Gove’s initiative and with the support of John Cossburn, (Hampshire CBI), a five day preparatory annual course for the NDB was set into motion at Sparsholt, Hampshire Agricultural College ) in 1973. This proved a popular attraction, with one feature being the provision of diseased combs from Luddington, accompanied by the burning of the combs, as stipulated, on the last evening of the course. This insight into bee disease was not easily obtained elsewhere, and was much appreciated by the students. Numbers on the course were dictated by the availability of bench space for microscopy sessions. Ten minute lectures on an allocated topic delivered by students were nerve racking for aspiring NDB’s. The course is now managed by Ken Basterfield (1996).

1980’s and onwards

The 1980’s saw Thomas, Luxton, McLean, Fletcher, Allan, Collins, Waring (Haynes Book on Beekeeping), Partridge gain the NDB. Luxton (1984) started the Devon Apicultural Research Group (DARG), and McLean (1984) held the post of BBKA Moderator and then Disease Officer for Northern area. In 1986 alone four candidates were successful, Fletcher, Allan, Collins, Waring (assistant to Bernard Mobus and later CBI for Northamptonshire), in marked contrast to the few successes in the previous decade.

In the 1990’s Cowan, Asquith, Oldrieve, Gabriel, Davis, Basterfield, Carreck, Gregory, Rich and Cullen gained the NDB. Some have been previously mentioned. Most are involved nationally and internationally in beekeeping education though sadly a number are no longer with us.

Reg Gove remained secretary until 1999 the post being taken over by Paul Metcalf then Norman Carrick (2006) who worked at Rothamstead Research and more recently LASI Surrey University, when Margaret Thomas took up the post. Paul Metcalf (1968, Senior lecturer in Fruit Crops at the Isle of Ely College in 1966-73, CBI for Norfolk 1974-86, followed by a number of posts at Easton College Norfolk) was appointed as Moderator to the NDB Examinations.

In 2008 the NDB passes were Davis, Smith, Beattie, Royle, and in 2011 Basterfield junior, Jones (Bees Officer). In 2015 Harris, Leitch, Murdin and Welch passed and joined the team, as has Anastasov (2017) most recently.

More recent NDB successes are involved in running courses in their local area and nationally and are participants past and present of the NDB Short Course team. The National diploma Board is presently as strong as it has ever been and will continue to serve beekeeping by providing the level of education required at this time.

This history was compiled by Geoff Hopkinson and Margaret Thomas with assistance from Paul Metcalf, and Clive de Bruyn. The writers apologise for any omissions. 

Footnote: Dates following beekeepers name are the dates the NDB was awarded to the individual beekeeper.

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