Beekeepers have launched a campaign to stop the import of honeybees into Britain via Northern Ireland because they fear the Italian insects could harm native species.
Apiarists want to create a hard border for bees after a British farmer Patrick Murfet announced plans to import bees from Italy for his business and to help other UK farmers pollinate their crops.
Since Brexit, the import of worker bees have been banned, only queen bees can be imported into Britain, not colonies or packs. In a bid to avoid the ban, Mr Murfet has arranged for the importation of 15 million bees to arrive in Northern Ireland as a staging post before they travel to England.
However, the Ulster Beekeepers Association (UBKA) is concerned about the imported bees damaging the native gene pool and bringing in the hive beetle into the country.
The hive beetle can multiply to huge numbers quickly; eating brood, honey, pollen, destroying combs, causing fermentation of the honey. If uncontrolled, the beetles destroy the colony.
The UBKA has written to Stormont’s agriculture and environment minister urging a ban on the importation of Italian bees.
Senator Eugene Murphy said he is aware of the issue, “There has been a serious disease in the bee population in that part of Italy (Puglia). The Italian Government has spent seven years trying to get rid of a species of beetle that absolutely destroys the bee population.”
The senator said that one third of the world’s food production depends on bees. Every third spoonful of food depends on pollination. To protect our bees is very important.
“It is a British issue because they come into Northern Ireland. We need to stop those bees being released in Northern Ireland because the fear is that they will infect our bee population and cause enormous damage.
More than 14,000 people have signed a petition to the UK Parliament to stop the importation of the bees.
“The UK Government should ensure that people cannot circumvent restrictions on the movement of bees from the EU to Great Britain by moving them via Northern Ireland. Unrestricted movement could allow small hive beetle to arrive and devastate British beekeeping,” the organisers of the petition said.