A pile of honeybee books teeter on a table beside my desk. They cover everything from the basics of honeybee husbandry, their ancient origins, to the meaning behind awaggle dance. My favourites, however, are the books dedicated to the wonder of honey. A substance I had not given much thought to before I began beekeeping and experienced the marvel of honey first-hand. Global honey production is now a multi-billion industry and honey fraud is an increasing problem on the world honey market. Thankfully, consumers are becoming more aware of food-miles and the importance of good welfare practices and that makes our locally sourced honey more precious than ever.
Our first honey harvest was more exciting than a Christmas Day morning. We all squealed with delight to see the golden liquid pour out of the centrifuge. It was impossible not to put a finger underneath the flow of the thick golden joy. Sometimes, we’d cut out chunks straight from a frame and spread it on hot buttered toast. Each tiny hexagonal wax sealed cell would burst with the most natural sweetnessknown to humankind and ooze glorious goodness. Honey is used with proud and regular abandon in our kitchen, its antibacterial properties have even been put to the test on cuts and grazes. It’s the elixir of our lives and our honeybees are treated with the same reverence as ancient man who believed bees were the tears of God. To watch a jellybean sized bee travel back and forth to her hive, her hind legs loaded with crumbs of pollen, is to feel the glow of awe.
Any and every season of our weather can be brutal. We all know that. It takes a hardy bee to survive here. My bees have no discernible yellow stripes, the Black Irish honeybee has been carefully bred and curated over generations by local artisanal beekeepers to endure our inclement climate.Researchers have found that Irish heather honey has similar antioxidants to manuka honey and is one of the best in the world for its phenolic compounds. Our native black bees are tough and quiet bees to handle and just like their name suggests their bodies are pewter black. They are entirely unique, an insect form of a pint of Guinness.
But a threat is coming their way. In our new post-Brexit world bees can no longer be transported from the EU direct to mainland UK, but a loophole means they can come via Northern Ireland and then be moved on from here. A bee equipment company is set to exploit this situation and in a few weeks three consignments of bees are due to arrive in County Down. Each consignment is due to have 500+ packages of honeybees from the Puglia region in southern Italy. This region of Italy has recently experienced devastating outbreaks of the Small Hive Beetle (SHB) a pest that is lethal to honeybees. A pest that is not yet present on the island of Ireland. The imported bees will fly freely during the peak mating season and nectar-flow months. This will increase the risk of spreading potential disease such as the SHB, it will putincreased pressure on local flowers and fauna, endangering the food source of local solitary bees and bumblebees. It will be an aggressive intrusion that will undoubtably have a negative impact on the conservation of our precious native black bee.
I’ve written many times before about the wonder honeybees ignite in me. They defy the laws of gravity, endurance and time. An insect that produces the sweetest natural liquid and in turn pollinates one in every three bites we eat. Imagine the acres of apple orchards in our cider county of Armagh without bees there to pollinate them. Bees are invisible food heroes, tiny workers that are never credited on the menu. We need to protect and cherish our native honeybees because they are the only ones who are strong enough to withstand our inhospitable weather cycles. We need to safeguard them whenever and however we can. Twenty-first century living is tough enough for these ancient insects; increased pesticide use, a decrease in wildflower forage and climate change already makes their lives a perilous daily battle.
Please help by signing the petition below to stop the transportation of Italian honeybees into Northern Ireland.
By Natasha Geary