MORE than half of Ireland's honeybee population has been wiped out since winter, say beekeepers, who have described the losses as a "complete and utter meltdown".
Varroa mites and their related diseases, poor breeding and two years of bad weather have played a big role in decimating bee numbers. But beekeepers are also blaming a controversial range of new agricultural pesticides – neonicotinoids – for contributing to the losses of between 50pc and 80pc of Irish hives this year.
In the UK, reports of 60pc losses spurred the government there to last week launch what it described as an "urgent review" of the bee crisis.
According to the Federation of Irish Beekeepers' Associations (FIBA), the wipeout among its 2,000-plus members is the worst ever. It estimates that Irish hive numbers have fallen below 10,000 from more than 20,000 before winter.
The losses have prompted FIBA's David Lee to call for a similar Government-led inquiry here. "Something has to be done. Not one area has escaped this devastation," he said.
Ireland's largest commercial beekeeper Michael Moynihan, of Dungarvan, Co Waterford, described the crisis as "nothing short of a complete and utter meltdown".
"Three years ago I had 600 hives. Last winter I had 400. This year I'm down to less than 200. In 50 years of beekeeping, I've seen nothing like this," he said.
Beekeepers also report a similar collapse in the wasp population.
Dr Mary Coffey, of the National Apricultural (beekeeping) Programme (NAP) at the University of Limerick, conducts the official state tally of winter losses for honeybees, which is expected by the end of this month. While she added that French research has confirmed that neonicotinoids kill bees, she believes the worst damage has been caused by the weather.