Chemicals, parasites and big business endanger bees

It’s one of the characteristic sounds of spring and summer, but the countryside is quieter than usual this year without the buzzing of bees.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 5th April 2013, 9:21 am

With 50 years of beekeeping under his belt, Willie Robson of Chain Bridge Honey Farm has seen his fair share of disease epidemics and tough weather.

But he insists that the recent combination of wet summers, the current cold snap and the persistent use of chemicals in the countryside is a combination the native bee population might not come back from.

“It’s very difficult,” said Willie, “it’s like winter outside, and this comes off the back of about seven wet summers. We’re probably about a month behind where we’d like to be.

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“I remember, when I was first starting out,” he continued, “the bees were able to be left alone, and able to do every thing they needed to do.

“But now, they need to be looked after much more. They are much more difficult to keep alive.”

This is due to the crops that bees pollinate being doused in neonicotinoids, a common insecticide. Originally thought to be toxin-free, it has been found to have an adverse effect on bees, and lingers in the wax they build hives from, though not their honey.

“It literally sends them goofy,” said Willie. Bees can forget where flowers to pollinate are located and it also affects their life span.

Willie went on: “Queens used to live for about five years. Now, you’re lucky to get a queen staying alive for one.

“It’s made worse in the cold weather, because the hive doesn’t have the impetus to repopulate itself as normal.”

Life for the bees is made even more difficult by the Varroa destructor mite, which lives on the insects, leaving them susceptible to disease.

As if that wasn’t enough, Willie sees the commercialisation of the countryside as a fatal blow to small producers.

“Supermarket power is immense,” he said. “They came through here in the early ‘80s, and killed off a lot of the little men.

“We were lucky, and we managed to stand up to them, selling through local outlets.

“But the land is being poisoned by people who just have no idea.”

In particular, Willie is fearful of people who think they can ‘just “pick up” beekeeping.

“You can’t just go from being a policeman or something to keeping bees. They are incredibly sophisticated creatures. The ones that we keep, you have to be careful who they meet, because they get used to their keepers, like larger animals do.

“That’s another reason why they will suffer so much, because you can’t just uproot a hive and move or sell them.”