Case for the Establishment within Ireland of a Reservation Area for the Conservation of the Dark European Honeybee (Apis mellifera mellifera) – Micheál C. Mac Giolla Coda (spring 2009)

1. The dark European honeybee is the original native honeybee of North Western Europe, including the islands of Great Britain and Ireland.
2. This bee possesses certain characteristics that are not found in other European subspecies, such as Italian, Carniolan or Caucasian bees.
3. It is ideally suited to a cool oceanic climate, which is typical of the western European seaboard, Scandinavia, the Baltic States and the islands of the North Atlantic.
4. It is the bee that predominates in the whole of Ireland and more especially within the Republic of Ireland, which has been largely free from the importation of other honeybee races in the recent past.
5. DNA analysis and morphometry studies have shown various samples of Irish bees to be within the criteria laid down for A. m. mellifera based on finds in the Viking excavations at York and Oslo, as well as on old specimens preserved in British museums.
6. Reservations for the conservation and protection of A. m. mellifera have been established in other Northern European countries, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.
7. Much work has been done on the conservation, study and improvement of native Irish strains by the Galtee Bee Breeding Group (GBBG) since its foundation seventeen years ago.
8. Funding provided under the Scheme for the Conservation of Genetic Resources in Food and Agriculture has provided the GBBG with resources to carry out research into bee improvement and the development of new methods of breeding, including queen rearing.
9. Through its lectures and workshops, the GBBG has educated many members of beekeeping associations in the modern techniques of bee breeding.
10. All members of GBBG are affiliated to the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association (BIBBA), whose aims are the conservation, restoration, study, selection and improvement of the native and near-native honeybees of Britain and Ireland.
11. The GBBG is also working with the International Society for the Conservation of Apis mellifera mellifera (SICAMM), with some members having attended conferences in Sweden, Denmark, England and France and delegates planning to attend the next conference in Scotland in September 2009.
12. In recent years, many GBBG members have become proficient in various aspects of bee improvement, including evaluation, recording, selection, culling, morphometry, rearing of queens and drones, identification of drone congregation areas, and methods of queen mating, including time isolation and instrumental insemination.
13. Originally founded by four beekeepers in the Galtee/Vee Valley of South Tipperary, the GBBG now has members in Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow, Offaly, Kildare, Dublin, Fingal, Meath, Westmeath, Louth, Cavan and Galway. In Northern Ireland, there are members in Down, Antrim and Derry, and there are two members in England and one in the Isle of Man.
14. At its Annual Congress in July 2008, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations passed a resolution to incorporate into its constitution, as one of its objectives, the conservation of native Irish strains of the dark European honeybee.
15. Ireland is the only European country that to date has not got varroa mites that are resistant to the approved treatment by Bayvarol. Thus far, we also have not found other serious pests and diseases such as the small hive beetle, Tropilaelops clarea, Kashmir bee virus and Israeli acute bee paralysis virus. One case of Nosema ceranae has been identified, but hopefully this disease may not be widespread through the country. One thing is certain if bees are imported from abroad, we will have all these pests sooner rather than later, as well as other diseases not yet identified.
16. With a steady increase in population in most areas of the country, there is a growing need for beekeepers to select and develop socially acceptable bees that are not aggressive and that have a low tendency to swarm or sting. It is now recognised that cross breeding between different subspecies provides progeny with an aggressive character. The GBBG has proved that pure strains of A. m. mellifera can be very gentle, often allowing manipulation without protective clothing, and has also identified low-swarming strains.
17. Morphometric measurements have been used assess the degree of purity or hybridisation that exists in a sample of bees taken from any colony, and a number of morphometric workshops have been held at various locations in Ireland. These workshops, along with a significant survey in 1995-1996 carried out by three students as a project for the Aer Lingus Young Scientists competition, have all showed that the honeybee that predominates in Ireland is A. m. mellifera.
18. DNA tests on 50 random bee samples carried out by Professor Bo Vest Pedersen at the University of Copenhagen has confirmed the findings of morphometric assessments, proving beyond all doubt that Ireland possesses very pure strains of A. m. mellifera.

It is essential that these Irish strains of A. m. mellifera be conserved for the benefit of bee breeding within Europe for future generations. The best way to do this is to prohibit importations of bees or queen bees into the island of Ireland.

Micheál C. Mac Giolla Coda

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