Site icon Aberdeen and District Beekeepers' Association (SCIO)

ADBKA History

[Below is a copy of the ADBKA Centenary booklet, A Brief History – 1910-2010, written by John Cooper, followed by an update written in 2020.]

A brief history – 1910-2010


The following account of the first 100 years of the Aberdeen and District Beekeepers’ Association has been compiled largely from a more or less complete set of committee minutes and other associated papers and documents covering that period.

John Cooper (Chair of ADBKA 2004-2007)

The black and white photographs are from the Craibstone Library and probably all local.

The First 50 Years

A Flying Start

No better indication of the Association’s origin can be given than by directly quoting from the very first minute of June 1910.

A public advertised meeting was held in the Agricultural class room, Marischal College, Aberdeen on Saturday 4th June 1910 at 2pm, with the object of forming a Beekeepers’ Association for Aberdeenshire.  Mr DM Macdonald, Morinsh, presided over a large and very representative meeting. After an excellent address from the Chairman, it was proposed and seconded and unanimously carried to form an Association for Aberdeenshire and District.

Names for office bearers were proposed at this inaugural meeting and a committee of 23 people was formed.

No time was wasted and the committee met 6 days later on the 10th June and set up a sub-committee to produce a set of Association rules.  This sub-committee met 3 days later on the 13th June and drew up the first set of rules, which were not significantly different than the ones that we still have. The annual subscription was set at 2/6d old money or 12.5p in today’s currency. The level of the subscription remained unchanged for several years.

The first annual report relates that the objects of the Association were to advance the practice of beekeeping, to suppress foul brood and other diseases, to seek better means of disposing of honey and bee products, and in general to help beekeepers carry on the craft in a practical and up-to-date manner.

These differ little from our current aims and, particularly interesting, in the light of recent events in this area, is the reference to foul brood and other diseases.

The committee  organised  the first  honey show, or  “honey  and bee products exhibition” as it was billed, in August of 1910 in Duthie Park, in conjunction with the Royal Horticultural Association. Prizes of 5/-, 3/-, and 2/- were awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in the various classes, of which there were 15.

The first  honorary  President of  the Association  was  Lord Aberdeen, and amongst the honorary Vice Presidents were such notables as the Countess of Southesk, Lady Pearson , owner of Dunecht Estate, a Lady Saltoun and the MP for Aberdeen South Mr G B Esslemont.

In its first year the Association affiliated with the British Beekeepers’ Association. (The Scottish Beekeepers’ Association was formed in 1912 and our Association has had a somewhat mixed, and at times fractious relationship with the SBA over the years, affiliating in some periods and disengaging at others.) By the end of 1910 we had just short of 100 members, and the first annual accounts showed a credit balance of £9 7s 7d.

The Association was truly up and running, and the pioneers of 1910 clearly  established sound foundations  on which  to  build.

Growth and Development

The following sections trace both the impressive growth that was achieved, and the wide range of activities that were established, in the first few decades.

Membership  Numbers

The most outstanding feature of these early decades was the impressive growth in membership. From the original membership of 95 in 1910, a peak was reached in 1953, when membership reached 3000. At this point it was almost certainly the largest local Association, not just in Scotland. but in the whole of Britain.

The growth was not completely continuous, with temporary dips during the First World War and again in the 1930s.

The growth in membership up to the Second World War was predominantly a result of recruiting existing beekeepers into the Association, more than recruiting new entrants to beekeeping, though there would have been some new beekeepers joining as well. The swell in Association numbers reflects the fact that keeping bees was a far more common·and widespread activity in the first half of the 20th century than it is has been in more recent times.

The significant spurt in growth during and just after the Second World  War was not unconnected with the rules of sugar rationing at this time. Beekeepers who  were  certified  as  bona fide by their  Associations could qualify for an extra 101bs of sugar per colony per annum for bee feeding purposes. Beekeepers who had previously remained outside the Association now readily joined, and one might even conjecture whether some  non-bona fide  beekeepers  managed to get  into the system.  When sugar rationing ended and the extra beekeepers’ allowance disappeared in the mid 1950s the membership plummeted by around 1000 in a single year, and the Chair of the Association at the time expressed an opinion in his Annual Report that many members who had not renewed their subscription had been more interested in sugar than in bees.

Organisation into Districts and Branches

The impressive growth in membership was connected to the way the Association organised itself, from an early date, to maximise  the chance that existing beekeepers would join and new recruits would be brought in. It did this by dividing up its area of operation into Districts and appointing District Secretaries. Each district was sub-divided into smaller Branches each with a Branch Secretary. These District and Branch Secretaries actively recruited existing and new beekeepers and were responsible for the collection of annual subscriptions. By 1921, for example, there were 13 Districts and District Secretaries, and no less than 92 Branches and Branch Secretaries, all serving 1800 members all told. With such a comprehensive network it must have been quite difficult for anyone with bees or anyone thinking of starting beekeeping to avoid being drawn into the Association.

Expert Tours

This organisational model was reinforced by the introduction from an early date of annual Expert Tours, in the summer months, by Association members whose beekeeping qualifications gave them ‘expert’ status.  In 1921, for example, the Association had 12 members who were either First Class experts of the British Beekeepers’ Association, or Expert Beemasters of the Scottish Beekeepers Association, or both.

An expert would be allocated a District and, working through the local Secretaries, would spend as much time as he or she could spare in the summer, visiting individual apiaries giving help and advice as required. Two Expert Tours took place as early as 1914, and by the 1920s around 10 or more tours were organised each year. These tours continued right into the 1950s, and at their height covered most of the Association’s area most years. In 1947, for example, 21 Expert Tours took place.

The Association’s  Annual  Reports of the time  included the reports of  these travelling experts, and make fascinating reading. A  few  examples will  give some flavour of  these  reports.

The Expert Tour Reports regularly recorded outbreaks of disease.    The Experts were reimbursed for their work at the rate of £10 or £12 per month, and as these tours increased they drew quite heavily on Association  funds,  but they  clearly  fulfilled  a very  useful purpose.

Annual  Reports/Yearbooks

From its inception right up to 1955 the Association published an Annual Report and Year  Book. We have almost a full set of these volumes and they contain an enormous amount of detailed and fascinating information. The cost of production, allied to a fall in revenue from fewer subscriptions, was behind the decision in 1955 to discontinue the production of these reports.

The Northern College of Agriculture and  Craibstone

The Association struck  up an excellent  working relationship with the College  through  its beekeeping staff,  most  of  whom  were  members  of the Association. The expertise offered from the college’s Beekeeping Department was a tremendous asset, and lectures by college staff became annual events, as did meetings and demonstrations at the College  apiary at Craibstone.  As an example of the contributions made by college staff, in 1941 staff accompanied the Associations Touring Experts and examined 1233 colonies, 7% of which were found to be infected with American  foul  brood. More will  be said  about  the  influence of some college staff in a later section. Suffice it here to say that the Association and the College’s Beekeeping Department grew together in a mutually supportive  way over a large part of the 20th century.

Outings, Demonstrations and Meetings

As well as the Expert Tours, the Association also organised demonstrations in most years from 1912 onwards, and in addition arranged for talks and lectures by visiting speakers from time to  time.

For several years, before numbers got so large as to make it impractical, an annual outing was arranged for members.  In 1912, for example, 50 members travelled by train in a reserved carriage to Granton on Spey to visit the apiary of a Mr Cruickshank, who provided a demonstration and refreshments. A similar outing to an apiary in Ballater was organised the following year.

Some of the most popular outings in these early years were to Glassel House and the apiary of a Mr Wood who was Association Chair for most of the 1920s. His demonstrations and his hospitality was apparently a big attraction. In 1921 he hosted several outings from different districts and catered all told for around 1000 people. In the Annual Report that year a cautionary note was included to indicate that Association outings were intended for members only, and not members’ friends as well.

Changes of Name

The Association started off as The Aberdeenshire and District Beekeepers’ Association.  In 1919 it changed its name to The Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Beekeepers’ Association.   In 1930 it finally settled on its current name, The Aberdeen and District Beekeepers’ Association.  These changes probably reflected changes and changing perceptions of the geographical area that the Association sought to serve.

Notable Individuals from the first 50 years

Certain figures stand out in the archives and are worthy of special mention for the contributions they made to the Association’s work.

Many more dedicated members contributed to the Association’s success in its first 50 years, and while it is impractical to try and list them all, the members who gave their summers carrying out the Expert Tours between 1910 and 1955 are deserving of special mention.

They were: Mr A.D. Low, Mr J.J. Mackintosh, Mr A.B. Duguid, Mr R. Duguid, Mr M. K. Watt, Mr J. Mackie, Mr J. Hall, Mr D. Fearn, Rev. W. Murdoch, Mr R. Cruickshank, Mr W. T. Scott, Mr A.W. Ross, Rev. A.G. Catto, Dr. W. Thorburn Scott, Mr A. Forbes, Mr J.A. Johnston, Mr J.A. Thomson,  Mr D.M. Macdonald, Miss N. Meston, Mrs G Smith, Miss N.M. Robinson, Mr J.S. Barron, Mr G.W. Hunter, Mr. J. Nicolson, Mr A. Dow, Mr J.D. Rennie, Mr J.F. Davidson, Mr W. Kennedy, Mr T. McIver, Mr H.L. Christie, Mr W. Marr, Mr W.G. Lobban, Mr J. Mann, Mr M.K. Watt, Mr A. Donaldson, Mr J. Paterson.

A Turning Point – 1955 to 1960

The spectacular drop in membership of 1000 in a single year, mentioned earlier, was just the start of a continuing steep decline in numbers over the next few seasons.  By 1960, when the Association celebrated its half­-century with a Golden Jubilee Dinner in Aberdeen’s Station Hotel, the membership had slumped to around 350, or just over one tenth of what it had been five years earlier.

The ‘sugar rationing factor’ alone cannot explain this dramatic fall, and one can only surmise that, for whatever reasons, many beekeepers were either not renewing membership or were going out of beekeeping altogether. New recruits were not able to counterbalance the trend.  The committee at this time expressed considerable concern and regret at the decline and set up a special committee called The Propaganda Sub­-Committee to try and find ways of reversing the trend.

Several special meetings were organised in different localities to try and stimulate interest in the Association. These meetings seemed to have little effect.  A system was also introduced whereby District and Branch Secretaries could retain 2/- of every subscription they collected.  It was hoped this would be an incentive for them to be extra diligent in retaining existing and recruiting new members.  While this did not bring about any significant increase in membership immediately it probably helped to stabilise the situation, and led to some growth later. Since 1960 membership numbers have never been above the 500 mark.

This five-year period certainly represents a turning point in the Association’s history, and brings out the contrast between the earlier ‘golden age’ of expansion, and the period of stabilisation which was to follow.

The Second 50 Years

1960 to 2000 – Consolidation Rather Than Innovation

With a much smaller membership, the last decades of the 20th century saw a continuation of several of the initiatives and activities that had been started earlier, and a cessation of others. The Publication of an Annual  Report or Year  Book, and the Expert Tours were not continued after 1955.

The system of District Secretaries continued right into the present century, though on a much smaller scale than earlier times. By 1980 membership numbers had increased to around the 500 mark, but subsequently fell again to around 300 by the end of the century.  Demonstrations, both at Craibstone and at members’  apiaries continued, as did a winter programme of lectures.

The strong link with Craibstone continued right through to the closure of the College’s Beekeeping Department in 1990/91. Mr A.S.C. Deans was the lead player in this up to 1974, when he was succeeded by Mr B. Mobus, who headed the Beekeeping department until its closure.  The Honey Show continued, and several of the trophies were donated during these decades.

Some new initiatives were launched during this period. A Newsletter, originally entitled The ADBKA Bulletin, was started in 1963, at first on a quarterly basis. It still remains, in its monthly format, as the Association’s main organ of information for members. Bulk purchases of Ragus candy and honey jars, for the benefit of members, were started in the 1960s.

In 1991 a series of free theoretical classes for beginners ran for the first time, and these were augmented by practical classes from 1993. Both were run for several years by the then secretary Mr S.C. Rae.

In 1998 the Association formed a small library following donations of books by two widows of beekeepers, Mrs Forbes and Mrs Beedie.  (A much larger Association library had been in existence since the 1920s containing, 150 volumes as early as 1929, but the entire stock had been transferred to the then County Library in Crown Street in 1962.)

It is clear from the Committee minutes throughout these years that the Association was being run smoothly, efficiently and effectively by a committed team of officials, and even allowing for the big fall in membership in the late 1950s, ADBKA, by the end of the century was still the largest local Association in Scotland.


Stability with some innovation probably sums up the character of the most recent past.

Membership has remained more or less at the 300 mark.

The Association obtained charitable status during this period and the chief advantage of this has been a welcome addition annually to our funds through the government’s gift-aid scheme.

We have renewed our link with Craibstone through the establishment of an Association apiary on the same site as the old College apiary which we rent from the Scottish Agricultural College.

The theoretical and practical classes, under Mr W. Taylor’s first-class leadership have gone from strength to strength, and the large numbers attending in recent years (around 60 in 2009 and a record 92 in our centenary year, 2010), has been very encouraging.

A ‘Winter Roadshow’ of meetings has taken place for several years now, and this winter programme has been augmented  by guest  lectures  and meetings.

The Honey Show and the AGM continue to be held at Craibstone  and remain two of the key events in our calendar.

We have established a presence in recent years, via an Association stand, at the Turriff Show and the Royal Horticultural Show in Aberdeen. This initiative has proved a popular venture.  Mr A. Gordon has been the lead player at these shows.

Our secretary, Mrs J. Kennedy, continues to provide our 300 or so members with an excellent monthly Newsletter.

Bulk purchasing for the benefit of members has been extended in recent years to include treatments against varroa and Ambrosia syrup.

Notable  Individuals From The Last 50 Years

In the decades since 1960 the Association has never been short of willing committed members, and while it is impossible to name everyone who has given their time and expertise, the following, in addition to those mentioned above, deserve a place on any role of honour.

Mr W. Foubister, Mr W.A. McKenzie, who died in 2004, Mr A.J. Lilburn, who died in 2005, Mr J. Tocher, Mr G. Tough,  Mr G. Thom, Miss L. Christie, the two Miss Stopanis, Mr and Mrs E. Lamb. Mr J. and Mrs A. Steele, Mr J.Greenhorn, Mr and Mrs J. McGregor, Mr J. Greenhorn, Mrs B. Cruden, Mrs J. Kennedy, Mrs H. MacKenzie. Mr L. Webster,  Mr A.  Innes, Mr F. Simpson, Mr A. Smeaton.

Another name that clearly belongs on the list above is Mr J. Stables, who was a District Secretary at Huntly and a committee member for many years. His son Mr G. Stables now sits on the committee and the unbroken Stables’ family connection with the Association goes back almost 90 years, when Jim’s father became a member in 1922.

A note of apology is offered to the many deserving members whose names do not appear above.

Endpiece – The Future

The arrival of varroa in the area in the early years of this century has been the most important new factor the Association and its members have had to address, and this will continue to remain true as far as one can see ahead.

Other problems and threats to bees and beekeeping, like the recent European and American Foulbrood outbreaks in Scotland, and the possibility of problems like Colony Collapse Disorder and the Small Hive Beetle becoming established here, are daunting prospects.  The global outlook for the survival of the honeybee is seriously problematic.  That is as true in northeast Scotland as anywhere else on the planet.

Beekeeping now is more about protecting our bees against disease and other threats than has ever before been the case. Since honeybees are the world’s best pollinators this makes beekeepers the custodians of a particularly important species.  It is the duty of Aberdeen and District Beekeepers’ Association, and all its individual members to play their part in facing up to and finding ways through the unprecedented problems that lie ahead.

Despite these problems, the Association, having provided first -class services to its members over the past 100 years, is well-placed to continue to do so into the future with some considerable degree of confidence.

John Cooper – 2010

2010-2020  A New Apiary and Modernisation

In 2011 The Scottish Agricultural College informed the Association that because of a planned new housing development the ADBKA apiary site at Craibstone would no longer be available to rent.  Chairman John Cooper ably led a ‘New Apiary’ project. Several sites were identified and inspected, and the Committee chose a site offered by National Trust Scotland (NTS) at Crathes Castle.

Approximately 70% of the cost of a large log cabin to be erected on the Crathes site was obtained primarily from the Aberdeenshire Council LEADER programme, followed by a grant from Scottish Natural Heritage. The balance came from the Association’s reserves.

Two busy years for the Committee culminated in a lease being signed with NTS in 2013. Planning permission was obtained, and the cabin was purchased from and erected by a local firm.

Throughout its history ADBKA has always managed to put together small teams of volunteers to carry out necessary work. Just such a team moved hives and equipment from Craibstone to Crathes and completed work on the cabin and site.

A new chapter in the ADBKA story started not only with the opening of the Crathes apiary on 17th May 2014, but at the AGM in the same month Members approved a resolution to convert ADBKA from an unincorporated charity to an Incorporated Charity and to adopt the legal form of a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, or ‘SCIO’.  A Special General Meeting held on the 18th October gave the final go-ahead and on the 1st of January 2015, for the first time since its establishment in 1910, ADBKA became a corporate body.  Committee members, now free from the risk of personal liability, became Trustees of the newly formed charity.

New technology increasingly had an impact on the day to day running of the Association.  At the start of the decade, 174 members were receiving their monthly newsletter by email, compared to 128 by post; by 2019, the corresponding figures were 226 and 38.  By 2015, ADBKA had its own Facebook page, providing members with an instantaneous, two-way line of communication, and by 2019 around 40% of the membership were in a Facebook discussion Group.  A new website launched in May 2016, ensured that the Association’s online presence kept pace with developments in the digital world. The Association logo, which had fallen into disuse, was modernised and more widely used from 2018.

ADBKA continued to promote beekeeping at local shows, events and in primary schools.  Following the Scottish Qualification Authority’s initiative in 2017 to offer a National Progression Award in beekeeping, the Association also started to work with secondary schools.

The spring classes continued with 80-100 participants each year. The sustained demand was probably related to an increase in mass media coverage of bees and honey bees, and especially threats to their survival, and a general growth in beekeeping in the UK.

There were 264 Members at the end of 2019. A membership survey revealed that perhaps 40% of the membership could be considered beginners with less than two years beekeeping experience, but that at least 12% of members (and probably up to perhaps 25%) had kept bees for decades.

2020 saw the start of the Covid pandemic. All Association events were cancelled from the middle of March, although a single demonstration and a single online meeting were held later in the year. The beginners’ course was suspended half way through physical lectures and subsequently completed online. The Crathes apiary and bees were maintained but member training and visits were not possible.

Exit mobile version