Honey bees are not in decline and adding new hives to the landscape is not a biodiversity action
Pollinators are in decline, with one-third of our 98 wild bee species threatened with extinction from the island of Ireland. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of our environment.
The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan aims to address wild bee declines and to create an island where a diversity of pollinators can survive and thrive. The success of the first phase of the Plan (2015-2020) has shown in every sector and in every corner of this island, people do care and that we can come together to make changes for the better: https://pollinators.ie/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/AIPP-Working-Together-for-Biodiversity-2015-2020-WEB.pdf
The AIPP is a call to action that requires many, many thousands of us working together across sectors. It is not a short-term, trendy initiative. It is about fully normalising a better way of managing our whole landscape to permanently support our struggling biodiversity. We know that sustaining long-term participation with the AIPP will be a huge challenge. We believe it needs to be built on trust in the experts running the programme, acknowledgement of all the efforts being made, and clear demonstrations that the actions we are taking together are making a difference and are having a positive impact.
The approach of the AIPP is to use science to recommend evidence-based actions to help. The popularity of bees can unfortunately lead to outside promotion of actions that are not recommended by the AIPP. As we get started on the next phase of the Plan for 2021-2025, one action of particular concern to us is the perception that getting a hive of honey bees is helping.
We fully appreciate that this is being done in good faith, and we reiterate our thanks to all those interested enough to engage with the Pollinator Plan. However, if your motivation is to help save bees, and you are considering getting a hive of honey bees, we ask you to please consider the below:
- While they face many threats, including pesticides and disease, honey bees are not in decline in Ireland but are increasing.
- Honey bees are a managed pollinator and adding new hives to the landscape is not a biodiversity action. They are more like mini-livestock. Losses can easily be replaced by taking a new nucleus colony from existing stock. One third of our 98 wild bee species are at risk of extinction. If lost, they will be impossible to replace.
- Conserving a managed pollinator like the honey bee does not help declining wild pollinators.
- Having too many honey bees in the landscape can exacerbate problems for our struggling wild bees where they compete for scarce forage sources.
- Keeping honey bee hives without proper training and experience can lead to greater disease risk, which can spread to wild pollinator populations.
- High-density beekeeping in natural areas can have lasting and serious negative impacts on biodiversity.
The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan is not against honey bees. They are an important component, and we work hard to ensure they are part of a cohesive and balanced pollinator voice.
We need trained beekeepers keeping healthy honey bees, but more importantly we need to halt declines in wild pollinators and create a balanced system that maintains a diversity of wild bees, hoverflies and other insects.
You should keep honey bees if you want to make honey or start a new hobby. If you decide to do this it is very important that you engage with your local Beekeeping Association to ensure you have the training and support necessary to keep healthy honey bees and avoid spreading disease to both managed and wild populations.
If your motivation is to help conserve bees or biodiversity, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan does not recommend keeping honey bees. There are lots of other simpler and more effective actions you can take to help.
Dr Úna FitzPatrick & Prof. Jane Stout
Chairs: All-Ireland Pollinator Plan
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