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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 06:48 GMT 07:48 UK
Decline of island bee population
By Shane Harrison
BBC Northern Ireland Dublin correspondent

Ireland's bee population is facing serious problems.

A mite is attacking the honey bees while nearly half of the island's bumblebees species are in serious decline and several of them face extinction.

The humble bumble bee is in decline
The humble bumble bee is in decline

This is all due to changes in farming practices and the explosion of development over the past 30 years.

Philip McCabe is one of Ireland's best known bee-keepers with colonies north and south of the border.

He keeps a close eye on his bees monitoring their progress as they convert nectar extracted from flowers into honey.

And all done in the presence of the queen bee, this one has a drop of white paint on her.

It is estimated that 60% of Ireland's bees are wild but they face a new threat, the varroa mite.

It was first found in Asia over 100 years ago but has now spread to Ireland.
Phillip McCabe has colonies on both sides of the border
Phillip McCabe has colonies on both sides of the border

Mr McCabe said: "It is the worst thing that has happened in Ireland - ever.

"It sucks up the blood from the honey bee and kills them so beekeepers who don't look after (them) their bees will be wiped out if they don't learn how to manage it."

Research is under way into organic ways of dealing with the mite. In the meantime, bee keepers are advised to use varroa screen floors.

But it is not just honey bees that are under threat, so too are bumblebees. Ireland's hedges and meadows used to support 18 species now surveys are only regularly finding three.

Why? Because hedges are being cut down for new houses, new roads and bigger fields for farming.

Anja Murray, an ecologist with An Taisce, the Irish equivalent of the National Trust, says it would be a terrible pity if children in the future only learn about bumble bees by reading history books.

She said: "Agriculture is becoming more intensive, we are having early cuts of silage. It is a change in production and so we are contacting the soil and there is not the habitat for the bumblebees to live any more."

Bumblebees sniffed out by spaniel
20 Jul 06 |  Scotland
Move to save UK's threatened bees
22 May 06 |  Tayside and Central
Bee decline 'may hit food crops'
06 Jun 06 |  Northern Ireland
Chemicals 'kill 90bn French bees'
02 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature
Save the bumblebee, gardeners urged
16 May 03 |  Science/Nature

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