Outside my window there’s a crowd of delightful daffodils, their heads dipping and bobbing in the breeze. We have a steep bank that surrounds our garden, up till now it’s been good for nothing except weeds. Last September I bought several bags of bulbs and scattered them in hopeful handfuls, pressing them down into the newly mulched bank with my booted foot. Here I am five months later looking out on an array of yellow heads that smile sunshine at us. Nature renews us and the turn to spring has been more welcome this year than ever after a locked-down winter.
The expanding days and the spring sunshine have coaxed out the bees, a very welcome joy. Sadly, not all my bees made it through winter. The weeks of horizontal February rain took a colony of my bees with it. Once a hive gets damp and cold the bees inside have little chance of survival. I blame myself. I should have put them somewhere more sheltered. Either way they’re gone. Clearing out the hive, their frozen little jellybean bodies huddled together in their winter cluster was sobering. A harsh lesson learnt. I’ll start another hive this summer and nestle it against the front fence amongst the bushes where it will be more protected from our horizontal Irish rain.
Any and every season of our weather can be brutal. We all know that. It takes a hardy bee to survive. The Black Irish honeybee has been carefully bred and curated over generations by local artisanal beekeepers to endure our inclement climate. In four winters this is the first time I’ve lost a colony. They 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 put increased 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 here 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 known to humankind and in turn pollinates one in every three bites we eat. 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.
I’m a nature-loving, horse riding, beekeeping Script editor & writer of fiction. Working on my third novel – ‘The Beekeeper’.