West Sussex BKA - A Short History

There is hardly a beekeeping association that hasn't experienced 'Beekeeping Politics' to some degree and West Sussex Beekeepers' Association is no exception, including the circumstances surrounding it's founding, and on several occasions subsequently.

In the early 1970s the Sussex BKA covered the whole of the county, with five Divisions in West Sussex - Chichester, Horsham (later to become Horsham and Crawley, later still to be Central Sussex), Littlehampton (later to become Littlehampton and Arundel), Wisborough Green (who had absorbed Midhurst in the 1950s) and Worthing.


After several attempts and a considerable amount of animosity, mainly involving a small number of people, which continued for several years, it was finally agreed to form a separate county Beekeeping Association for West Sussex.  For a couple of years there had been much discussion, some of it quite forceful, with concerns such as boundary changes and the possible cost of financing a new organisation.  There was a letter sent to members by the Divisions who dealt with the matter in different ways, some changing their minds.  The minutes record that at Worthing 'A vote was taken and proved strongly against' and at Horsham '...an extraordinary meeting when only two people attended...''!

The inaugural WSBKA meeting was held at Brinsbury School of Agriculture on Monday 22nd May 1973. Worthing stayed with Sussex BKA, leaving Chichester, Horsham, Littlehampton and Wisborough Green to form WSBKA.

As these Divisions had withdrawn from Sussex BKA, there was no apportioning of SBKA funds, so a silver collection was made at the inaugural meeting, which raised £5.45.  Both Wisborough Green and Horsham Divisions offered £5 each.

The first President was Sqn. Ldr. Stratton, who had done much of the campaigning to form WSBKA.  He was a Worthing member, but when Worthing voted to stay with Sussex BKA, he joined Littlehampton. The first Chairman was Roger Patterson of Wisborough Green, Secretary Dave O'Dwyer and Treasurer Greville Holmes, both of Horsham.

West Sussex County Council employed a County Beekeeping Instructor (CBI), Arthur Curnuck, but it was clear he was unlikely to be replaced on his retirement, in line with the cost cutting measures elsewhere.  The CBI organised a residential weekend at Lodge Hill, Watersfield, every summer and when WSCC ceased to run it, WSBKA took it over and organised it for a couple of years.  It was then replaced with two conventions, one in the spring and one in autumn.  These were run successfully for several years, then ceased due to the lack of an organiser.  After a gap of several years a single convention in spring was introduced and continues to this day.

Andrew Stedman of Horsham Division was keen on sailing and suggested that WSBKA hold an equivalent to the 'Kitting-out Party' that was organised by his sailing club at the start of each season.  The first 'Kitting-out Party' was held in 1975.  This was successful and rapidly increased in size, being renamed 'Beekeepers' Fayre' the following year, and many years later to 'Bee Market and Auction'. Over the years the format has largely stayed the same, with a few changes, such as a lecture that wasn't a success and Punch and Judy for children that certainly was - and with the adults too!

After several years, Worthing decided to withdraw from Sussex BKA and join WSBKA.  Horsham and Crawley proposed that WSBKA considered becoming a registered charity, which caused a lot of ill feeling for some time, resulting in Horsham & Crawley withdrawing to become a charity themselves.  They changed their name to Central Sussex BKA to more accurately reflect their catchment area, then decided to rejoin WSBKA some years later.  In the meantime the membership of Littlehampton and Arundel, that had always been the smallest Division, had reduced to the point where they were no longer viable, so they disbanded.

Varroa had been seen as a threat for some time before it was first detected.  In 1978 WSBKA put a resolution to the BBKA Annual Delegates' Meeting (ADM), 'Owing to the high incidence of disease coming in with imported bees, and the proliferation of Varroa jacobsonii and its spread across Europe, we propose that the BBKA should seek a ban on all imported bees.'  This was passed and there was a ban for some time, but it was later lifted when Varroa arrived and spread.


With all organisations there are highs and lows.  The lows are often caused by personalities or apathy.  For a couple of years nobody wished to be Chairman, so it was agreed that each Division should chair the committee meetings in turn.  Although it did not work very well it kept things going until the influx of new beekeepers in the early years of the 21st century.

The role of a county BKA has largely remained unchanged, although the expectations of the membership and methods of communication have changed.  The responsibility for teaching beekeeping has moved from the County Beekeeping Instructor to the Divisions.  They all approach it in different ways and arrange their own events independently, retaining complete autonomy.  WSBKA arranges events it is difficult for the Divisions to stage on their own, such as the convention and auction.

Roger Patterson  30th April 2014


Sussex Beekeepers' Association continues, being active in the east of the county.