Native Irish Honey Bee Society – Apis mellifera mellifera

Native Irish Honey Bee Society
Apis mellifera mellifera

NIHBS Queen Rearing Group Scheme (QRGS) report

Over recent years the number of imported honey bees into Ireland has been increasing significantly.

Background to the Queen Rearing Group Scheme.

The importation of non-native honey bees is the greatest threat to the native Irish honey bee which is being increasingly hybridised due to these imports.

  • In 2019 DAFM advised that 249 queen bees were brought in.
  • In 2020 this number increased to 1063, an increase of 327%.

Despite our discussions with and pleas to DAFM and the government, no action was taken to combat this problem.

Over the winter of 2020 NHBS conceived the QRGS which is now up and running; we are grateful to DAFM for supporting us financially in its pilot year.

It is open to NIHBS members who form groups of between 6 and 20 beekeepers. The groups are assisted with

  • significant education in queen rearing,
  • practical support and mentoring from a group of expert queen rearers and breeders
  • genetic material and equipment to commence queen rearing.

The concept is to make Ireland self sufficient in bees for hobby and commercial beekeepers alike by breeding both mated and virgin queens for distribution. The mated queens are for production and the virgin queens are to build back up the Amm genes in areas where they are being overrun by imported bee genes to keep the native bees from potential extinction by hybridisation.

The scheme will run over 2+ years and enable groups of beekeepers with the necessary skills.

  • to produce native queen bees,
  • become proficient in queen rearing,
  • supply other beekeepers in the local area with quality native queens
  • have surplus to sell or donate to the wider beekeeping public
  • pass on the newly gained skills and knowledge to other groups in the future.

NIHBS queen rearing group review, July 2021.

The group held its second online summer meeting to review the progress of the scheme on the 8th of July. All 13 groups are having success in their queen rearing whether by using the cup kits or grafting over the past couple of months.

What is emerging is that, as you would expect, the weather in Ireland is playing a significant part in the outcomes from the group’s efforts. Early in May when we started there was very limited success in most places however a couple of groups did have fairly good results from day one. With the better weather, results have improved significantly and now everyone has virgin queens for distribution and most groups have mated queens to go already.

The monthly discussions are proving invaluable to us all. As well as getting the regular expert advice and troubleshooting we are able to support each other by knowing what is happening around us. As a result we are now able to review our work by locations and eventually we might find a correlation between the weather and queen rearing. Also, as a potential additional outcome, we might be able to see whether the results follow the same pattern as the honey harvest, which as we already know, begins several weeks ahead in some places compared to others.

Although the whole of the island is not yet covered by the groups, it loosely appears that the areas which are having early success are those in a band roughly across the top of the republic while those running centrally and below the M7 are behind.

By reviewing this type of information we can better prepare and analyse how we go about timing the queen rearing next year to further improve results. However, had we not started early, we would not have learned from our initial efforts to enable us to go forward in confidence.

The next steps are to flood the locations with our good queens to bring up the quality of Amm in the areas where imported bees are having an influence and to promote sustainability for the groups and associations by using our mated queens to make up nucs ready for next year.

In a nutshell, perseverance is paying off despite the very poor spring weather and we are now all set to continue through August when we should have surplus queens available for our associations. As an added bonus, by continuing our regular online meetings in addition to our mentors input, we are consolidating our efforts and learning from each other which will add to the further success of the scheme.

Alan Forskitt

5 Responses

  1. We, as a small group of very supportive individuals of AMM and NIHBS at Ballyblack Bees have been on an on going crusade for 10 years or more to introduce the Black Native Bee into the area known as the ARDS Peninsula in County Down.
    We have had absolutely no assistance either practically or financially from either NIHBS or the jurisdictions that operate on this little island and we probably have one of the best areas on the island to breed and promote the AMM. ??
    Alas this point has been lost on NIHBS and Governments and peoples heads are dropping now due to lack of interest and assistance from Ulsters reps at both levels.
    We produce approx. 100 over wintered Nucs and numerous black queens but we could be helped by refreshing our genetic pool and help with AI as people are now importing when they do NOT need to locally. This could be better emphasised at educational levels too.

    1. Hi Billy.
      Jonathan here
      I am still on the NIHBS committee but am not the Ulster rep for NIHBS
      We have found it difficult to get more people local people involved to work on behalf of NIHBS so if you are volunteering that would be great as we could do with more experienced beekeepers like yourself.
      NIHBS runs a queen rearing group scheme and this year there were 12 groups on it including anew one from Derry.
      Colm O Neill and myself delivered a dozen powerpoint presentations on detailed aspects of queen rearing in Spring this year to about 150 group members via zoom. The groups I mention below were all involved.
      We expect to have a similar number of new groups starting next Spring.
      Get your name down for that. You would need at least 8 people in the group who are NIHBS members.
      The groups get an incubator, a nuc with good genetic stock to graft from, and basic queen rearing equipment.
      Results this year have been great.
      I dont agree that heads are dropping up North as we have very active native bee queen rearing groups in Minnowburn Belfast, Derry, East Tyrone and Dromore. I was at a stand for the Tyrone group on their open day a coupe of Saturdays ago.
      If you let me know who you previously approached in NIHBS looking for assistance I will chase it up

      1. Hi Jonathan, Thanks for reply!!!, good to hear from you and hope you are keeping well.

        I/We do promote NIHBS and AMM at every opportunity but I see and witness Nucs of bees sold to new beekeepers by very prominent keepers here, saying that their new colony of bees are pure AMM. They are NOT and like my own bees are best case options for the real thing. We should be producing pure AMM queens from a good AI or II source and someone to lead up this project locally who has the ambition and interest to push for pure race bees and not the moungrels we are being left with through open mating. This local someone could then train our local II (Instrumental Insemination) team, if provided with the machinery for the job. Pure AMM queens means pure AMM drones and that equates to pure AMM nucs and colonies locally. We do Not have this but should. The UBKA and local district groups and associations should be championing this concept instead of building Ivory towers for themselves!
        As the articles says on the great new website by the way, the importation of queens and nucs have increased by over 300% in last few years, this should not be happening at local, provincial or government level. Who is buying these Italian/buckfast strains that make our and your work even harder. Heads ARE dropping as I have heard alot of beekeepers say that they dont really care what colour the bees are as long as they are healthy and survive our winters, alas alot of them perish from disease and starvation in their first season?
        We have a great resource and worth fighting for the AMM honeybee…As you know there is only 1.



  2. Hi All,

    I consider myself a learner and don’t see that changing any time soon but it means I am happy to ask silly questions. I love how passionate folks are about native bees and it does appear to me that there is a consensus building among beekeepers locally (Crumlin, Co.Antrim) at least that the way forward is improvement in local AMM stock.

    I looked a way to shortcut the hard work and buy in good AMM genetics. The problems I observed were…..
    …There does not appear to be an all island supply
    …How do I know what is good as opposed to available?

    Its would be great to have a centralized all island evaluation program where breeders could send a sample (6) of their queens to be evaluated (introduced to a colony and tracked until after the flow). Even if the results take into the summer to present the competition would hopefully increase the speed at which the all-island genetics improve and give folk something to work towards.

    It may take getting a commercial beekeeper with no interest in selling their own queens to run/support it but surely there could be a research opportunity for someone given the ability to combine this with genetic testing, that could be built in and funded?

    Could also be a bit of craic.

  3. Hello JJ,
    Firstly apologies for the late reply, We are all volunteers- people with little spare time?
    I think most of us are beginners as well as you.
    …There does not appear to be an all-island supply, Yes when you need a Queen fast….
    …How do I know what is good as opposed to available? … Again a situation that needs a Queen in a hurry
    On your other questions, I am afraid we do not know of a genetic testing facility that is available to us at
    a reasonable rate.
    But please stay looking at when we are running the next Queen rearing program where you will either be able to get a Queen or do what we are really trying to get going now, which is to produce a New Queen rearing group or Queens reared for the individual beekeeper, If we can get enough people educated into the best way to do this, we will not have problems with Queen supplies, I am aware that in beekeeping nothing works that easily… But we can only try ! Best regards and please keep in touch, John Thorp

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