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Bees are not just for Christmas!


So, you want to buy a gift that makes a difference, one that makes a positive impact on biodiversity. You have a someone in your life that loves nature and you get a brainwave, I won’t get them one gift, I will get them 2,500 gifts instead!  With the gift of a hive, together you and your loved one can help save the bees! 


Well, sorry, but I am here to burst your bubble. This is not a good idea, and despite the availability of bees online, buying non-native honey bees could hinder Irish biodiversity. We have a unique Irish Honey Bee, which is under severe threat as a result of mating with non-native sub-species. The Irish bee is perfectly adapted to our cool, wet and windy conditions, it is distinctive to its European subspecies and has taken about 6,500 years to evolve. Unfortunately, bee keepers can’t control who their queens mate with, and by importing or buying non-native subspecies, your new hive will dilute the precious gene pool of our Native Irish Honey Bee, Apis mellifera millifera (Also known as the black bee/Dark European honey bee).


There are a number of other reasons purchasing bees for Christmas is a bad idea. Firstly, Beekeeping is an undertaking that takes planning and consideration. For example:


Are they allergic to bees?;

Do they have the financial resources to buy all the equipment?;

Is there a safe, sheltered sunny spot to locate them?;  

Is there a mentor nearby that can help when its needed?


These things can take a few months to get in order before you go anywhere near purchasing them.


Getting a hive is not the first step.  


Secondly, bees in Ireland don’t like to be disturbed in Winter.  You may see some bees flying around on milder days but generally once the temperature drops they get into a tight cluster in their hive and ‘hug it out’  and ‘buzz’ to create heat. They maintain a temperature of 35 degrees and need not to be disturbed during this time.


Thirdly, an untrained beekeeper won’t know how to manage pests and disease within a colony and a hive that is sick can spread disease to wild bees, jeopardising their health.


And finally, by purchasing bees, you are adding competition to your garden, potentially making food more scare for the wild bees that already live there. We need the bumble bees and solitary bees forage sites to be plentiful before you add another few thousand to the mix. Honey bees are important pollinators and do tremendous work in our garden, but just make sure there is enough food for them.


We know that Bees are the most important pollinator of crops and native plant species, and they are responsible for one in every three bites of food humans consume. They are also critical to the health of our environment. So it is vital that wild pollinators have enough food to forage. In Ireland we have 100  species of bees, (the Ivy bee being the latest arrival). Of those 30% of the Irish species are threatened with extinction. Six species are critically endangered, 10 are endangered and 14 species are vulnerable. The Honey bee represents only one of these species. By introducing them to an already low forage area, you may actually make food scarcer for the other bees in your area, doing more harm than good.


Don’t get me wrong, beekeeping is a fascinating and rewarding hobby and once started it can be all consuming and thoroughly enjoyable. Once it is done with consideration, it can definitely enhance the local biodiversity, but it is not something to rush into .


Now that I have convinced you to hold off on the purchase of a nuc (hive), there are other things you can get wrap up and leave under the tree for your bee-loving family member instead, things that will help save the bees!:


·      A book on The Native Irish Honey Bee Apis mellifera mellifera by the Native Irish Honey Bee Society here €25

·      A Bee Experience with a local bee keeping group like Open Hive €85

·      A beginner course in their local bee association, usually start in January and cost about €120 here 

·      Buy some herbs or a native Irish tree, or other bee loving trees like a horse chestnut or a lime tree so they can plant them in their garden. If they don’t have the room, rewildwicklow do gift certificates here and will plant 10 oak trees in your name €40

·      Buy them a bug hotel at your local garden centre. This will attract all types of bugs and bees to your garden.

·      A book on planting for bees, “Planting for Honeybees” by Sarah Wyndham Lewis


Yvonne Johnston is a beekeeper in Wicklow, studying Apiculture in University Galway and a member of NIHBS.

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