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Dublin: 3°C Saturday 5 December 2020

Pesticides on farms are wiping out entire hives and tens of thousands of bees in one spray

‘Bees were out foraging and when the spray hit them they couldn’t make it back to the hive and they died.’

Image: Shutterstock/kosolovskyy

BEEKEEPERS ARE WARNING entire beehives are being wiped out due to pesticides being sprayed on farming land. 

There are around 3,500 individual beekeepers collecting honey around Ireland – some with dozens of hives in one apiary. 

Individual hives can house between 10,000 and 15,000 bees at any given time, but this grows rapidly, up to as much as 60,000 per hive, in the summer months. 

However, beekeepers have warned that spraying chemicals, which are toxic for bees that land on crops to collect pollen, are wiping out entire hives and could lead to as much as a third of the creatures disappearing as a result. 

“I live beside a dairy farmer whose land was covered in dandelions,” one Galway beekeeper told TheJournal.ie. 

“The dandelions were out in full bloom and the farmer wanted them cleaned up so he sprayed them, but that morning the bees were out foraging and when the spray hit them they couldn’t make it back to the hive and they died. 

“The farmer that sprayed them didn’t know the bees were out and if I had known he was spraying, I could have locked them up for 24 hours to stop them dying,” he said. 

Bees are Ireland’s most important pollinators and the National Biodiversity Data Centre has undertaken a project to track the rapid decline in numbers in recent years. 

In the case of the Galway beekeeper, three out of his four hives were completely wiped out, which he estimated was home to around 90,000 bees. 

He has been growing his apiary since 2011 when he took up beekeeping as a hobby. 

“I had four good strong hives this year. It was a great year for bees so far, there was a good population whether it was the good weather, or what, I don’t know, but they were building up mighty,” he said. 

“I was very annoyed at the beginning when it happened but I blame myself just as much because I should have went to the farmers and told them,” he added. 

“They were dying for a week after the spraying, some of them crawling around for a week after it.”

While this is the first time he lost a significant proportion of his hives suspected to be as a result of the chemicals, he said he is aware of other beekeepers who lost their hives to spraying too. 

“The only thing I can say is that the farmer shouldn’t spray when there land is covered in flowers because it’s not only the bees they’re killing but butterflies and everything around the place too.”

Ken Norton of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations is to deliver a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Culture Heritage and the Gaeltacht on Wednesday. 

He said he plans to outline “what they can do to prevent one-third of our bees becoming extinct”. 

“Basically what we do when we take bees out to any crop when the spraying is going on is we remove our bees and then move our bees back after that. 

“The farmer is not our enemy, we know they have to spray, but if they are going to spray – just notify the beekeeper so you lock up the bees for up for 24 hours,” he said.

It has led to calls from some keepers to have organisations such as the Irish Farmers’ Association take a proactive approach to encourage farmers to liaise with beekeepers in their local area. 

A spokesperson for the IFA said it is encouraging “all farmers to stay in contact with their local beekeeper when this is happening”.

“It would be a difficult thing to implement from top down and it would have to be in a locality for people who know each other to act on this.  

“It’s really about each side making the other aware of each other’s work,” he said.

Last month, an inter-governmental report on biodiversity also reiterated that up to a third of the 99 bee species were facing extinction. 

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