Green Column: In praise of island’s bees

BUZZWORD: The Manx bee population is thriving

BUZZWORD: The Manx bee population is thriving

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This week Cilla Platt, secretary of the island’s Southern District Beekeepers, and education officer for the Isle of Man Federation of Beekeepers, explains the history of the island’s bee population – and invites readers to a forthcoming talk by a renowned bee expert (and bee beard hero!)

Bees have been on this planet for 130 million years in a very similar form to what they are today. We know this through fossils in sedimentary rock of that age. One individual, preserved in amber (fossilised tree resin), is about 100 million years old.

Originally bees were solitary and probably ate other smaller insects.

But they gradually developed into the vegetarian pollinators that we know today.

Honey bees are just one of about 20,000 species of bee that make their home on our planet with us.

Most are very small solitary insects, with the queen being the active mother of her brood, laying the eggs and feeding the resultant larvae herself.

Most people know the big furry Bumble Bee. There are many varieties of even that – some quite small, and all with distinctly different designs of stripped jersey that single them out as different.

These bees are classified as ‘social’, with the queen being the only member of her family that over-winters – just like wasps.

Honey bees, however, are classified as ‘colonial. The queen over-winters, but unlike wasps and bumble bees she may live for several years.

She also has a retinue of many thousands of worker bees to look after her and to do all the nest duties, all year round.

Honey bees are like colonial termites. Their queen does no work except to manufacture hundreds of thousands of eggs in her life time. This is vital to the continuity of the colony and the workers are hugely aware of that, and treat her with extreme care.

Our honey bees (Apis Mellifera) have been in the Isle of Man since the ice sheet receded and the vegetation, especially flowering plants, colonised our land.

We started out with a little, almost black, bee which was wonderfully adapted to our climate.

We now have a mongrel population since beekeepers succumbed to the influence of advertising, way back yonder.

However, we learned our lesson and there have been no bees imported to the island for 40 years, and we are in the enviable position of having a very high proportion of the desirable original black bee genes in our stock.

We are also very, very fortunate not to have many of the diseases, including varroa mites, that proliferate in the UK and elsewhere in the world, because we have not imported them.

Local people have kept bees here in the island for hundreds of years.

As recently as the beginning of the 20th Century articles were written over in the UK, about how ‘up to date’ the methods were here.

We have a very active Manx Federation of Beekeepers. In fact this year we are celebrating because there has been an Association of Beekeepers in the Isle of Man for a hundred years this year.

As a celebration of our centenary we invite everyone to come to a lecture at the iMuseum (at the back of Manx Museum on Kingswood Grove) at 3.30pm on February 1.

We will be offering you a free talk given by a very eminent speaker from Southern Ireland, Philip McCabe, who will tell us about Honey, the Oldest Medicine Known to Man.

Mr McCabe is also known for his record breaking attempt of dressing himself in 350,000 honey bees (you can find pictures of his heroics on the internet)! Well worth a visit.

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