Time to give bees a chance
A new group aims to protect the endangered, and economically crucial, Irish honey bee
“Given that there has been an upsurge of interest in honey bees over the last few years some people have been tempted to import them from abroad. This can have dire consequences for our native bee stocks. The main threats to native Irish bees are without doubt the Varroa mite, associated viruses, and other diseases that could possibly reach Ireland due to importations.
“The Varroa mite was only discovered in Ireland in 1998. We were [up until then] one of the few remaining Varroa-free countries in the world, due to our strict controls on importing bees. The parasite was carried in by imports often in the misguided belief that they were somehow better than native stocks. However, the reality is that they do not acclimatise well to the Irish weather and thus need much more honey to keep themselves alive,” she says.
“Our society will be visiting both urban and rural communities in Ireland over the next few months giving talks about the native honey bee and the importance of preserving it,” says Pat Deasy.
“Children, as well as adults, have a great fascination for bees especially when viewing an observation hive. The NIHBS will be providing hands-on workshops covering all aspects of bee breeding while helping Irish beekeepers to observe best practice.”
For further information about the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, see its website: nihbs.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or log onto its Facebook page.
The value of native Irish bees and their honey
There are more than 2,500 people registered as apiarists with bee associations in Ireland – an increase from 1,500 a decade ago. A similar success story is to be seen in the growing demand for Irish honey.
Annual production levels currently vary from 200 to 600 tonnes and the potential market for ‘run honey’ is estimated to be in excess of 1,000 tonnes per annum. Honey is also a lucrative commodity said to be worth in excess of £190 million (€221 million) a year in the UK and 60 times as much in the US.
Irish bees collect most of their honey from blackberry blossom – the common briars in the hedgerows – and from clover. There are many other wild flowers, tree blossoms and a couple of commercial crops from which bees collect and this bio-diversity has traditionally helped to keep them healthy.
In Ireland, disease transmission is often helped by poor weather conditions. Bees are unable to fly out in very wet weather, which means they are confined together in the hive for longer periods. Despite this, in terms of colony losses, Ireland is better off than many European countries.
Before the Varroa mite arrived, Irish bee-keepers could expect 10 - 15 per cent losses on average every year. After Varroa hit, however, many beekeepers experienced more than 25 per cent losses.
Some experts have termed this ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ (CCD) but the bulk of Irish beekeepers dislike using the term. CCD was first described in the USA, where factors contributing to the loss of bees are quite different.
In the US and parts of the UK and France, CCD is exacerbated, if not caused, by the proliferation of single crops (mono-cultures), long-distance transportation and the overuse of antibiotics and herbicides.