MEG member and novice beekeeper Liam Murtagh says that our ecosystem including many farm crops are at risk due to the decline in the number of bees, so he is encouraging more people to consider keeping honeybees.
Top bar beehive with a removable viewing window cover
Have you seen many bees so far this year? Most likely you will have seen only a few bumble bees, as the weather has not been favourable for the honeybee. In fact many colonies of honeybees have not survived the winter and in my own case I lost one of my two colonies. Many fellow beekeepers in Ireland have had significant losses as have beekeepers throughout Europe.
It’s not just the wet and cold weather that has an adverse effect on the bees. There are other threats including the varroa mite and pesticides. In the US and in Europe the condition known as ‘colony collapse disorder’ is now generally regarded as being caused by agricultural pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The EU Commission has recently imposed a two year ban on their use across the EU despite a minority of countries voting against or abstaining, as was the case in the vote of the Irish Government on the proposal. The ban follows a recommendation from the European Food Safety Commission (EFSA) which determined back in January that neonicotinoid pesticides pose an “unacceptable” risk to bees. Philip McCabe the well-known beekeeper is the current President of the European Commission of Apimondia (International Federation of Beekeepers Associations). Speaking on RTE Radio he welcomed the ban and expressed the hope that it will lead to a recovery in bee populations in Europe.
There are about a hundred species of bees in Ireland but a third of them are under threat. They pollinate wild flowers and farm crops such as oilseed rape, clover, apples and strawberries. The decline in bee populations could be considered to be part of the process of extinction of many species which is happening at a rate one thousand times that of pre-industrial times. Scientists have called this the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history and the only one caused by a living creature: humans.
The honeybee originally lived mainly in holes in trees but wild colonies in Ireland are now almost non-existent. Over the years there have been different types of hives used by beekeepers to keep bees and harvest their honey. These range from the straw skep in the 19th century to the National hive used by many beekeepers today. Most hives used today involve the use of frames within the hive but some beekeepers are now advocating the use of a frameless top bar hive, claiming that is more ‘bee friendly’.
More beekeepers are needed to ensure that honeybees are helped to revert to their previous population levels. If you become a beekeeper you help local biodiversity and the bonus is that you can usually harvest some honey from your bees. If you are interested in becoming a beekeeper it is best to firstly talk to an experienced beekeeper to get an idea of what is involved. Although beekeeping may not be for everyone, if you have a reasonably sized garden, are a farmer or have permission from a farmer to use a protected corner of their land, it is worth considering the possibility of becoming a beekeeper.
Undertaking a beekeeping course is really essential as well as becoming a member of a beekeeping association. Details of the Monaghan-Armagh and the Louth branches of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers FIBKA can be found on their website www.irishbeekeeping.ie. Details of this year’s annual training event in Gormanstown from July 21st to 26th are also on the website. There are sessions there for beginners to advanced levels and one can go for the whole week or just even a day. Beekeeping equipment is also for sale. The cost is €18 for a day for a participant to attend lectures and you also get to meet beekeepers from all over Ireland and from other countries.