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.
Teenager caught with €20,000 worth of cannabis
A teenager was stopped and searched by Gardaí in Eyre Square on Monday evening, and found in possession of an estimated €20,000 worth of cannabis.
Members of the Galway Divisional Drugs Unit stopped the man, aged in his late teens, at around 6pm and searched him under the Misuse of Drugs Act. During the search the man was found in possession of a €20,000 of suspected cannabis herb. The drugs seized will be sent for forensic analysis.
He was arrested and detained at Garda Headquarters in Renmore and was released from custody this morning. A file is now being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Level 5 ‘lockdown’ restrictions from midnight Wednesday
‘Crass stupidity’ to allow Leisureland close
The looming threat of closure for Leisureland after Christmas amounts to “crass stupidity” and requires an urgent commitment for funding from Government, according to a local TD.
Deputy Catherine Connolly told the Galway City Tribune she had raised the issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State for Local Government and he had expressed an openness to meeting with a delegation from City Hall in relation to the City Council-owned facility’s dire financial situation.
“It’s simply not acceptable that a public swimming pool would close when we have the Minister for Finance announcing a budget of €18 billion this week – that’s Monopoly money.
“We have €18 billion to dispense and the challenge is to do that in a way that ensures a basic level of services below which we cannot go, and that requires funding the local authority. The local authority is fundamental in any civilised society, as are the services it provides,” said the Independent Deputy.
Raising the issue in Leinster House, Deputy Connolly said that Leisureland was an excellent public facility that had been open since 1973 and had broke even for the last number of years, but had run into major funding shortfalls as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It is a fantastic swimming pool. I must declare a conflict of interest as I use it every weekend, It helps to keep me semi-sane and semi-fit.
“No public swimming pool makes money and few of them break even. This pool needed money due to Covid-19 and the difficulties experienced by every public swimming pool in the country. The management in the City Council said it was not in a position to give it money and that the swimming pool would have to close,” said Deputy Connolly, adding that the decision had been made and staff were informed.
Due to public pressure and resistance from local councillors, the decision was reversed and €207,000 in funding had been provided by the Council Executive.
“However, it pointed out that the money was coming out of next year’s budget, so it could not continue, and it would not be in a position to fund it.
“I do not expect miracles, but I expect commitment from the Minister and the Government that, regardless of what happens, we are not going to close public swimming pools or public libraries. They are essential services,” said Deputy Connolly.
She said €2.5 million in funding had been made available for “swimming pools with public access” in the private sector as part of the Government’s July Stimulus package, but nothing for publicly-owned facilities.
“It is very ironic if we are going to keep private swimming pools open once they have some limited access to the public, while we close down the public swimming pools,” she added.
Responding, Minister Peter Burke said his Department was keeping spending and cash flow at local authorities under constant review and would continue to work with Galway City Council to address issues.
“My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and decline in local authority income streams.
“I will do my very best with regard to the Deputy’s ask. I would be willing to meet a delegation from the City Council in connection with this issue. However, there are going to be significant asks emanating from this crisis. We are doing our very best to make what we have go as far as it can. It presents a major challenge,” said Minister Burke.