Crops in mite of trouble as pest threatens honey bees
NATIVE Irish bees face a "considerable" threat from a tiny mite that can wipe out a colony in less than two years, and which is developing a resistance to the only pesticide used to control it.
The parasitic varroa destructor mite attaches itself to the body of a bee, and spreads a virus that affects its immune system and can destroy all insects in the colony.
Horticulture Minister Ciaran Cuffe said yesterday that bees were also threatened by a phenomenon known as "colony collapse disorder", which has wiped out hives across the world.
Numbers have fallen by a third in the US and up to 25pc in France.
The cause, or causes, of the collapses are not known.
Bees play a crucial role in pollination and falls in their numbers have serious consequences for agriculture.
A study from the Department of the Environment found that bees were worth €85m a year to the economy because of their role in pollinating plants and crops such as tomatoes, strawberries, apples and berries. Biofuels, such as oilseed rape, also benefit.
"Already in Britain field beans often have to be pollinated by hand because of the shortage of bees. Orchard owners are taking proactive steps to ensure pollination, given both the decline in wild bees and falling interest in beekeeping," the study said.
The Department of Agriculture said the varroa mite, which causes varroasis, had led to "very considerable losses".
Options to control the parasite were "limited" because many products were unsuitable for use in Ireland.
It will fund a €300,000 research programme aimed at finding new treatments for the varroa mite and to discover the extent of the losses.
"In Ireland two products, Bayverol and Apiguard, are authorised to control varroasis," it said.
"Due to its suitability under Irish climatic conditions, Bayverol has been used almost exclusively by Irish beekeepers since 1999.
"Evidence from other EU member states and the US has demonstrated the varroa mite's ability to develop resistance."
Philip McCabe, from the Federation of Irish Beekeepers, which has 1,600 members, urged homeowners to plant crops suitable for bees.
"Our native black honey bee is in serious decline due to parasites, weather and the destruction of our countryside," he warned.
"We beekeepers are determined to protect one of the greatest pollinators."