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Wednesday, 24 April, 2002, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Parasite threat to bees survival
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By Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland rural affairs correspondent
line

Honey bees in Northern Ireland face a new and potentially deadly threat following confirmation of the arrival of a virulent parasite.

The parasite, the varroa mite, sucks the blood of bees, eventually killing its host.

Northern Ireland has about 800 registered bee keepers and probably the same number of people again who simply keep a hive in their garden.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that the varroa mite has been found at five locations and has declared north Down and the Ards peninsula an infected area.

Movement restrictions on bees have been put in place within a 5km radius of the sites, as well as around hives which have received bees from the infected colonies.

Some people keep hives in their garden
Some people keep hives in their garden

The arrival of the mite threatens Northern Ireland's European protected zone status for bees.

Protected status has allowed the Department of Agriculture to control imports of Queen bees.

The department says that only when the full extent of the infestations is known, will it be able to determine whether protected status can be retained.

A spokesman said that a decision on this issue would also influence whether the present outbreaks would require destruction of the hives, or could be confined to treating the bees.

Bee keepers are now holding urgent talks with the department but there is already opposition to the destruction of infected colonies.

Margaret Warden, whose hives near Newtownards have become infected, said destroying bees was not the answer.

"They tried that in the Republic but it did not work," she said.

"There are simply too many wild bees which also carry the mite."

Infestations can be treated, but once the mites become widespread there is little doubt there will be reoccurrence.


Eastern bees can tolerate the mite but the strain of bees kept in Northern Ireland has no defence against the varroa

Insecticide strips can be used in hives to control the mites, but some honey producers may be reluctant to rely on chemicals in the production of honey.

Hives with even low levels of infestation produce relatively little honey as the mites drain the bees of energy.

Colonies carrying the varroa mite are particularly prone during the winter months with the mites leaving them in a weakened state.

Spreading

The arrival of the varroa mite now threatens honey production in the province this summer.

The varroa mite has been gradually spreading north through Europe.

Eastern bees can tolerate the mite but the strain of bees kept in Northern Ireland has no defence against the varroa.

The mite was first discovered in England in 1992 while beekeepers in the Republic of Ireland have been trying to cope with it in recent years.

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