The bee is a most underrated species; without it our food sources would disappear and we would starve – and yet no native Irish honey bees survive in the wild, due to foreign viruses being brought in on imported bees.
NUIG has joined forces with NIHBS (The Native Irish Honey Bee Society) to breed a strain that will be tolerant to the devastating Varroa Destructor parasite.
“I have no doubt came it in on the back of an imported honey bee,” says Cleggan-based Gerard Coyne, chairperson of NIHBS.
“Connemara, due to its isolation, was one of the last areas in the country to get this Varroa mite.”
The parasite attaches to the body of the bee, and weakens it by sucking ‘bee blood’ or hemolymph. A severe infestation can cause the death of an entire colony.
When it was first discovered in Ireland in 1998, it played havoc with the native Irish Honey Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera), which has been devastated in its native wild environment.
“There are no honey bees living in the wild anymore – they can only live where they are protected,” Gerard adds.
“All the feral colonies have died out – one of last colonies was Connemara, as we didn’t get the mite until 2009. Two years after its arrival, all the wild nests were gone.”
Beekeepers treat their honey bees with organic products but, as in humans, the parasite builds up a resistance and the battle seems impossible to overcome.
While the importation of foreign bees continues, it will never be resolved.
“They do not suit our wet conditions, especially here on the west coast – when they cross-breed with our breeds, you have total confusion, and they get aggressive and unmanageable – people have drifted away from beekeeping due to the aggression in bees.
“The bee likes to go about in private, so they like a nice secluded spot that animals or people can’t interrupt. Bees do things by instinct – they’ve been doing it for millions of years, and they don’t like interference. Too much manipulation disturbs them, stops them working, and makes them aggressive.
“Honey Bees are not naturally aggressive, they will only protect when they feel their home is under threat, or when they’ve got lots of brood, honey, or stores to protect. When they are out foraging, they are totally docile, and are not interested in humans or animals.”
NIHBS, which represents beekeepers from the 32-counties – is lobbying the Department of Agriculture to stop importing bees – that is one of its main aims and objectives.
“The bee we have here is superior to any imported one, and why we can’t protect and conserve it is beyond belief.
“All the bigger beekeepers in Ireland, that produce honey, are using the native honey bee, because it fares out better. Importing bees is a useless exercise – you can’t keep them from going to the wild, and breeding with other bees.
“You must breed from your locally-adapted bees – our bee evolved after the Ice Age, and they have stood the test of time.
“But man always thinks that faraway hills are greener – there’s nothing wrong with bees from other areas, but they have a longer foraging climate; our bees only have a window of 4-5 weeks. When we cross-breed, we get mixed genes, the bee doesn’t know what to do, should I be in Connemara or the Mediterranean? That bee is confused, it gets aggressive, and is more prone to disease because its stressed.”
Evolution has made the Irish bee dark, to attract the sun, whereas the imported bees are yellower.
Our ancestors certainly recognised the importance of the bee for survival, which has sadly been largely forgotten by later generations.
“The honey the bee produces is minute compared to its other values – bees are important for pollinating, they are underrated for their value to farming and crops.
“Without bees, we would starve, our food would start to disappear slowly, and if the bees disappeared – and they are getting scarce – a lot of our food would disappear, and other animals would get weaker, and over time there would be less food, so it is vital for survival.
“Once something leaves the food chain, others will weaken, and after a while our immune system will break down as we won’t have a balanced diet.
“They are wild creatures, but we have domesticated them, and put them under pressure asking them to produce more honey – that’s their winter stores, they will always produce a surplus of honey, and that’s what we steal – we call it harvesting.”
A major aim of NIHBS is to eventually breed a strain of honey bee that will survive in the wild, which is their natural habitat.
With this in mind, scientists at NUI Galway, headed by professor Grace McCormack and PhD student, Keith Browne, have asked beekeepers to send samples of their bees – before any Varroa treatment takes place – to them by May 22.
Beekeepers use the sugar shaker method (the mites fall off) to count the percentage of Varroa mites in their hives. Then, they send a sample of 10 bees to NUIG for analysis.
As part of the breeding programme, beneficial traits such as grooming, temperament, honey production, and disease resistance, are selected.
A second count will take place at the end of August.
“If we can determine Varroa-tolerant bees, and breed from there, hopefully we will keep out other diseases – there is a pest in Italy (Small Hive Beetle) – if we continue to import bees it will arrive on our shores. Then that’s another problem on top of what we have.”
NIHBS and the Connemara Bee Keepers Association run courses and events to promote the survival of the native honey bee.
A ‘Queen-Rearing’ workshop will take place in Oughterard on Sunday, June 12, at Sean Osborne’s apiary (it will be signposted). There will also be demonstrations for beginners, who may be interested in taking up this hobby.
Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site
An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.
The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.
It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.
In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.
“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”
The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.
A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.
A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.
It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.
Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.
The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.
NUIG student accommodation firm records loss
The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.
However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.
Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.
The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.
Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.
The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.
Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.
Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.
The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).
The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.
It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.
As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.
It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.
In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.
Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan
Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.
Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.
The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.
It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.
Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.
Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.
“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”
The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.
He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.
“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.
“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.
“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.