The Irish Bee Conservation Project (IBCP) was established to provide information to communities regarding bee habitat requirements and to increase the survival of all species of native Irish bees through research, ecology support and biodiversity protection. The programme began 7 years ago with a research project investigating some of the challenges being encountered by the native Irish honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera. This initial research project has now expanded into an organisation with four initiatives as the focus of the IBCP.
These initiatives are Research, Habitat Support, Biodiversity and Education.
This aspect of IBCP continues from the initial research described above and is focussed on the Varroa mite parasite which is the greatest threat to Ireland’s native honeybee. This study and breeding programme will be entering it’s 5th year at our dedicated research apiaries and laboratory during 2020. Results have been encouraging where selected colonies are now showing tolerance of the Varroa mite through the expression of natural traits contained within the bee’s genome.
One of the main reasons for the diminishing numbers of certain species of Irish bees have been the reduction in foraging and nesting sites throughout the country. During 2019 the IBCP began a programme to combat this effect and established 20 specially designed “Bee Lodges” to provide shelter and breeding facilities for all species of Irish bees. These lodges were erected in large trees in Fota Wildlife Park and on farms in county Waterford. Wild bees are currently occupying these shelters and will propagate over winter and next year to increase the relevant populations. The target for 2020 is to establish a further 80 lodges in other locations throughout these counties. The Research project will feed directly into Habitat Support as native honeybees with increased Varroa tolerance will have greater survival rates in the wild when introduced to the “Bee Lodges”.
Along with the reduction of wild nesting locations across the country the reduction in foraging sites has led to a significant loss of species and range for some Irish bees. The Great Yellow Bumblebee is an example of this where 60 years ago this species was prevalent throughout the country but today it is endangered and found only in certain western counties. The IBCP through an education and networking programme are working to increase floral rich areas which are desirable to our native bee species. This initiative is focussed on creating multiple small areas of floral development in private and public areas and links directly into the Habitat Support initiative. This programme involves liaising with government bodies, businesses, farm groups, community groups, schools, hospitals, universities, eco groups etc.
IBCP have established a link with the Royal Microscopical Society to secure the use of teaching microscope kits which can be brought to schools to introduce students, (both junior and secondary) into microscopy, insect biology and specific aspects of insect biology associated with the life and survival of native Irish bees. These programmes will be carried out by IBCP in association with the teachers who will develop curriculum-based projects such as foraging areas to attract bees and demonstrate how bee pollinators can manipulate and carry the pollen which is necessary for the continued survival of the bees. This initiative will enable the students to visualise the links between the bees they see every day and biology involved in the ongoing survival of these bee species. The added advantage to this education initiative is that the students will encourage their families and friends to support the Biodiversity requirements of our native bee species.
In summary, the IBCP is working for the survival, protection and proliferation of Ireland’s native bee species. The four elements of our approach are highly integrated and through our growing network of members we plan to expand our initiatives from Cork and Waterford throughout the country over the coming years.