Time to give bees a chance
A new group aims to protect the endangered, and economically crucial, Irish honey bee
Itself a sub-species of the dark European honey bee, the Irish honey bee is hirsute compared to its non- native fellows, enabling it to better survive our cooler, damper oceanic climate. Black bees are also frugal in their use of honey stores, allowing them to withstand longer periods of climate- induced ‘austerity’
Collective bargaining may no longer be de rigueur in our current economic climate but this has not prevented Irish bees from acquiring a representative organisation of their own.
The recently established Native Irish Honey Bee Society (NIHBS) is an all-Ireland body dedicated to conserving remaining stocks of the endangered Irish ‘black bee’.
Itself a sub-species of the dark European honey bee, the Irish honey bee is hirsute compared to its non-native fellows, enabling it to better survive our cooler, damper oceanic climate.
Black bees are also frugal in their use of honey stores, allowing them to withstand longer periods of climate-induced ‘austerity’.
Since the mid-1990s, however, native bee numbers, have been decimated by the arrival of the Varroa mite parasite to Ireland’s shores-mainly on the backs of cheaper imported bees.
“The feral bee population has all but gone in many parts of Ireland,” laments Pat Deasy, the society’s Waterford-based Chairman. “Varroa is the cause of spreading many bee viruses and weakening the bee population; however, with help our native bees will in time learn to co-exist with it.
“We want to educate both beekeepers and the general public, that there is still a very strong black bee presence in various locations throughout the island. This was proved by the national morphometry and DNA-testing programme organised recently by the Galtee bee breeding group.”
The Irish Department of Agriculture estimates that the value of the bee as a pollinator of Irish farm crops is in excess of €85 million a year. Indeed, 60 per cent of food today relies on bees for its pollination with fruits like apples, raspberries and strawberries enjoying higher yields as a result.
Recent scientific research also points to the fact that one in three mouthfuls of food globally has been pollinated by bees. Many of those things that we take for granted, such as cereal in the morning and home grown apples, would become unaffordable to many without the tireless work of bees.
“The local beekeeper is the most important friend of the environment where both wild and agricultural flora depends on pollination to propagate,” explains Pat Deasy.
“If there was no pollination, some of the wild flora would disappear over time, agriculture-dependant crops would suffer with poor returns and fruit crops would be poorly formed. Every encouragement should be made to foster beekeeping as the environment depends so much on the bee.
“The main enemy of beekeepers is American and European ‘foul brood’. If this goes unchecked it will have disastrous effects on Irish beekeeping. In America, farmers are now paying over $100 per hive for pollination services and there is a worrying shortage of honey bees there.”
Irish farmers, in particular, have a huge role to play in preserving the land but the race to increase farm size and profit has been a huge factor in the declining health of the Irish bee.
The society hopes to play its part in advising farmers on the use of pesticides, the maintenance of hedgerows and the importance of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) in increasing forage for these tiny insects.
The society’s public relations officer Aoife Nic Giolla Coda spent three years as secretary of Co Clare’s Banner Beekeepers’ Association.
She argues: “The majority of Irish people do not know that we have a honey bee which is native to this island at all. Education, therefore, is vital for both the general public and beginner beekeepers, allowing them to understand how our native honey bee outperforms its rivals under testing climatic conditions.