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“Beeing” In the Moment!

“It’s an ill wind that blows no good”. Climate change is increasing its negative impact on farm environments with the recent Storm Ellen in August creating havoc with many mature deciduous trees bowled over in East Galway farmlands. Bernie Leahy, Advisor elaborates on her Irish Native Black Bee find

With up to 30 trees knocked in the path of this ferocious wind on our own farm the arduous task of clearing essential farm roads and repairing boundaries was a daunting prospect.

Thomas, the local Tree Surgeon was secured and whilst sawing a collapsed ancient Beech tree (500 yrs old), a wild bee colony was disturbed. Honeycombs with valuable stocks of wild honey poured down the eroded centre of this aged beech. Swarms of bees frantically fled their exposed haven secretly hidden for years on years.

During a recent “Mooney Goes Wild” RTE 1 radio programme, valuable habitats that aging deciduous trees offer was discussed. As the trees get older their inner cambium rings become eroded but this serves to provide a natural insulated environment for the Wild Black bees to breed, make honey and regenerate.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020

All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 published in September 2015 identifies 81 actions to make Ireland pollinator friendly. This Bee Friendly Plan is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre and a host of government departments, state bodies, commercial enterprise and voluntary groups. The most common habitats for Irish native Black Bee are found in higher areas such as trees, roof and building structures whilst larger bees eg, Bumble Bees prefer lower  ground. Research studies conducted at the NUIG has found that the Wild Black Bees found in East Galway are surviving in the feral state unlike their counterparts in Europe.

Native and Hybrid Bees

It is generally considered that the darker honey bee is the native form, Apis Mellifera Mellifera.  Lighter coloured honey bees come from introduced sub-species such as Apis Mellifera Ligustica or a hybrid form. The Buckfast Bee bred by Brother Adam of Devon is one such hybrid Bee, a product of an Italian Bee and the Native English Black Bee. Wild honey bees are threatened by habitat loss and chemical use in our landscape. Hybridisation with other bees can cause wild bees to lose the genes which help them adapt to their local environment. This has happened to native wild bees in Europe.

Of the 99 species of bees in Ireland, there is only one native wild honey bee, a sub-species called Apis Mellifera Mellifera or the Northern black bee, which is considered extinct in the wild across much of its European range. The study at NUIG showed that some free-living colonies can survive for 3 years or more without human intervention. Further research is being carried out at NUIG to devise strategies to protect the Wild Honey Bee for Ireland and the rest of Europe.  This is funded by the Department Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the Native Irish Honey Bee Society, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers and the National Biodiversity Data Centre offering expert advice. Farmers are also encouraged take part in this survey by visiting the website below.


How did this Wild Black Bee colony in Kilrickle survive Storm Ellen and the trauma of tree felling?

Local Beekeeper, Noel Leahy of Slieve Aughty Honey was called on as well as neighbouring Beekeeper, Ruairi O’Leochain, of Athlone’s Wildlife Apiaries, Kilrickle. Since Mr O’Leochain was living very near he was able to almost immediately come to the rescue of the wild hive. He came equipped with a specially constructed mating box to trap the Queen Bee. Over the next 12 hours the Bees were fed with a sugar solution. The Queen Bee’s presence kept some of the colony together. We await a positive outcome for the survival of these Wild Black Bees.  Mr. O Leochain’s bees feed on the abundant ivies growing on trees, walls and hedges in later summer. The taste is more bitter but distinctive and it looks like the New Zealand Manuka honey. In the small surroundings of Kilrickle two more Beekeepers are lovingly operating this ancient skill.

Ciara Fergus Of Whitestone Honey, Doon, Kilrickle produces a superb light colored honey with her bees who forage for their nectar in her garden and wild grassland meadows surrounding her home. The White Stone is well known locally as a marker point for the Traveller Folk who camped the roadsides in by gone days.

Mark Devon of Dartfield, Kilrickle laments at the fact that poor summer weather in 2020 has resulted in lower honey stocks for his Kilrickle Honey. Mark & partner Finola decided to get into bees following a talk given by Beekeeper, Noel Leahy at a Teagasc Options course in 2017. His bees are of the Irish Native Black Bee and feed within a 3 mile radius over unfertilised white clover pastures and meadows and local garden shrubs and flowers. He would prefer that his bees would not interbreed with other hybrid Bees. It is difficult to avoid this.  Mark’s wife Finola added that locally produced honey was the best for treating allergies and even cuts.

Don’t forget that planting Native flowering hedges, trees and bee friendly flowers in your garden or farm boundaries is vital for feeding stocks for our “Apian” friends.

Various courses which help farmers expand their knowledge of Bee Keeping have been offered at Gormanstown College.  Further information at enquiries@gormanstonpark.ie  Local courses have been run by a group such as Tribesman near Kilcolgan, Co. Galway. (Covid restrictions in 2020 have reduced availability).

For farmers interested in Organic Production and Sustainable Farming Methods online bookings can be made via email to organiccourses@teagasc.ie or info@theorganiccentre.ie

Teagasc Diversification Webinars held each Tuesday from 11am to 12 am can be accessed on the public Teagasc website. You can Register to join these Webinars live or Webinars are recorded and can be accessed via the link here. teagasc.ie/farmbusinessoptions.

For Food Entrepreneurs wishing to further develop a product, each unit must be booked by 27th November 2020 by contacting the following website www.biainnovatorcampus.ie  an expression of interest application form is available on this website.

The Wild Black Honey Bee has survived in nature by adapting to its environment. 

Irish Farmers must also adapt by adopting nature friendly farming practises. Strive to diversify in order to survive!