New Society aims to restore native Irish honeybee

At the recent FIBKA (Federation of Irish Bee-Keepers Association) annual summer Course in Gormanston a meeting was held which included beekeepers from the whole of Ireland including Offaly who had at heart the future welfare of our native Irish honeybee.

At the recent FIBKA (Federation of Irish Bee-Keepers Association) annual summer Course in Gormanston a meeting was held which included beekeepers from the whole of Ireland including Offaly who had at heart the future welfare of our native Irish honeybee.

At a subsequent meeting it was decided to establish as soon as possible an all Ireland society that would serve as an umbrella organisation for groups and individual beekeepers who are interested in the preservation and improvement of the various Irish strains of native honeybees. 

The inaugural meeting for this society will be held at the  Maldron Hotel, Portlaoise, on Sunday 25th November next, commencing at 2pm. All Irish beekeepers and others who are interested in supporting the aims of this new organisation are invited to attend this meeting.

The primary aim of this society will be the conservation, study, improvement and restoration of the native Irish honeybee (Apis mellifera mellifera). It is on this native honeybee population that we plan to build, develop, improve and expand our beekeeping industry.

It is hoped with the united effort of Irish beekeepers to identify strains of native bees that are capable of tolerating the Varroa mite that has been responsible for the decimation of all wild colonies of honeybees. If this can be achieved, there is a strong possiblility that the local strains of Apis mellifera mellifera will recolonise those nesting sites that were formerly occupied by feral colonies and from which Varroa tolerant swarms will issue forth once more to repopulate the countryside and to carry out the necessary pollination of all flowering plants both wild and cultivated.

The parasitic honeybee mite Varroa destructor first arrived in Ireland in 1998 having been brought into the Sligo/Leitrim area on bees that were imported by car from England. Since then the honeybee population of Ireland has been decimated with the spread of the varroa mite throughout the 32 counties. This is mainly due to the complete annihilation of all honeybee colonies that lived in the wild throughout the island. Many old-time or traditional beekeepers also gave up beekeeping due to the extra work and expense necessary to treat their colonies of bees to combat this new predator.

This Irish population of the Dark European Honeybee is unique as it is the chief remaining repository of this sub species of Apis mellifera mellifera that at one time populated the whole of Europe north of the Alps, ranging from the islands of Great Britain and Ireland across the Ural Mountains in Russia, and northwards through the Baltic States and the whole of Scandinavia. Throughout most of these areas this sub species has largely been hybridised due to importations of other European sub species, particularly from southern Europe and the Mediterranean area.

In Ireland have large remnants of this wonderful heritage still surviving in its pure form in the apiaries that are being managed by Irish beekeepers. Recent surveys entailing DNA analysis and a countrywide morphometric survey undertaken by the Galtee Bee Breeding Group on a nation wide basis have proved beyond doubt that these bees can be regarded as pure Apis mellifera mellifera.
The population of native bees is constantly under threat from imports of other subspecies into certain parts of this country. As there is no way of controlling the mating of queens by these foreign drones, there is a great danger that the native stock will be irretrievably contaminated as has happened in other countries.