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A local Beekeeper has expressed concerns about the proposed importation of millions of bees to Newry from Italy, by a Kent businessman.

Patrick Murfet from Kent has opened a facility in Newry as a potential workaround for Brexit caused difficulties, where he can't now import bees directly into England. The company called Patrick's Bees is based on the Forkhill Road in Newry.

Over 1400 people have already signed a petition to Parliament asking to "Stop the importation of honey bees into GB from the EU via Northern Ireland."

Beekeepers locally are concerned about the potential import of bees from Italy into Newry. Photo by Bart Rybaczewski from FreeImages

An Invasion

AL Day a local small Beekeeper who keeps native bees is horrified at the potential consequences if the bee imports are allowed. AL points out It is legal to import bees under free trade arrangements in the EU but in Ireland in the past (North and South) there would be only a small demand  for these.  "The conservation of our native species has always been difficult but this would just be an invasion." adds AL.

Explaining the background AL said "Patrick Murfet, a Kent beekeeper, who trades as Bee Equipment UK has a business importing honey bees into England.  As a result of the UK deciding that ‘package bees’ can no longer be imported to the UK he is seeking to bypass the new rules by using what he perceives to be a loophole in the N.I. protocol.

"He has set up a new associate company called Patricks Bees and has ordered 15 million bees from Italy. He intends to import them to England via Northern Ireland this coming April.  Specifically, according to his website, these bees will be located in Newry.  As a guideline these 15 million bees will require up to 1000 hives to accommodate them."

AL adds "As I understand it, the bees Mr Murfet has ordered will originate from Puglia in Italy, very close to recent outbreaks of the small hive beetle, Athena Tumida. The arrival in N.I. and indeed on this island of this parasite would be the equivalent to the Black Death for all bees - bumble bees, stingless bees and native honeybees. Within a few short years, our currently surviving species would be utterly decimated beyond recovery.

"If these bees do not carry the parasite, the risk of devastation is focused solely on our native Irish honeybee, (Apis Mellifera Mellifer) which, given the numbers being imported, risks being genetically diluted to the point of extinction. Given that we are home to one of the very last flourishing populations of Apis Mellifera Mellifera, an importation and genetic ingress of this scale would be utterly tragic for Irish bees and for global bee diversity."

Another local Beekeeper added "This beekeeper says no to Italian bees. Our native Irish bees Apis Mellifora, Mellifora have evolved to cope with our climate and fauna. They are already coping with multiple diseases some spread by previous bee imports. These Italian bees should not be imported."

DEFRA Inspectors invited to inspect bees

Patrick Murfet disagrees. Commenting the Kent Beekeeper said "Puglia does not have SHB ( Athena Tumida ) in fact the nearest outbreak started in Sicily around 20 years ago, since 2014 it has remained in the very southern part of Italy contained by very effective quarantine methods, implemented by government inspectors, the nearest outbreak is over 400 miles from our breeders’ apiaries, that’s around the entire length of the Island of Ireland.

"The bees will be inspected at source in Italy by government appointed inspectors and issued with a TRACES health certificate, we have also invited Northern Irelands DEFRA appointed bee inspectors to inspect the bees at our location in Newry on arrival, in addition those bees moved to the UK will be inspected by seasonal bee inspectors also appointed by DEFRA. The final inspection can be made at the customers own apiaries because we make available to DEFRA the end user’s details."

Patrick believes the phrase “Native Bees” is a real red herring "as previously stated we have been supplying bees to the Island of Ireland for many years as have other companies in the same business, the direct links to Europe have made it easy for local groups to move bees around Europe to the island of Ireland."

UK Ban perfectly sensible

Local beekeeper AL thinks the decision of the UK to ban the importation of bees is perfectly sensible because of the potential environmental harm these imports can pose, and to protect the integrity of our native bees.  Explaining her concern AL said "DEFRA have indicated that they will destroy the bees if he attempts to transport them from Northern Ireland into the UK.  In this case, he is likely to dump these bees on the market, with consequently devastating effects on ALL our local bees, wild and managed.  There would also be a huge negative impact on Irish beekeepers who operate small beekeeping businesses and raise new queens and hives for sale."

Explaining how the Newry element came about Patrick said "We have had for a number of years a considerable number of customers on the Island of Ireland supplying beekeepers with equipment and bees.

Patrick Murfet.
Patrick Murfet.

"Due to the change in legislation, we have had to change our business from Ireland being supplied from the UK to Ireland supplying the UK for some of our products, these are items such as any products originating in the EU, indeed we hope to be able to land containers from USA into Ireland later this year. A much shorter and cheaper route than landing in the south of England.

"To that end we have set up an associated company Patrick’s Bee Supplies Newry, we are selling our full range of beekeeping equipment from that location, this should result in lower prices for Ireland and a boom in the interest in beekeeping.."

Buckfast Bee

Patrick is keen to cite historical references "Brother Adams OBE who was probably one of the most famous bee keepers in European history started to breed bees by crossing bees from different countries almost 100 years ago 1898 – 1996, he dedicated his entire life to breeding a better bee. The world renown Buskfast bee is probably the widest used strain in the world.

"Designed by cross breeding strains from across the world, countries such as Turkey to Germany and Italy to name a few. The purpose was to improve the strain for honey gathering and handling.

The Kent man ads "The Island of Ireland is no different from any other part of Europe that has historically allowed the movement of bees, a multi strained highly improved local bee population, history dictates that cross breeding improves “global bee diversity” to use the quote from your contributor.

"We do not “dump” on any market, most of our imported stocks are already sold, many into Ireland. Most suppliers of Nuc’s in the UK have long sold out proving the need and market is high, we are very often the only quality supplier to new beekeepers and bee farmers who use them to pollinate our valuable crops. Local beekeepers will often rely on swarms to supply new beekeepers, these are unfortunately as a result of poor beekeeping often carrying pests and diseases.

"Another red herring I’m afraid is, our bees are young recently reared bees, the bees are introduced into hives with frames at our site in Newry, most of these hives will be sold to companies in the UK long before any drones could possibly contribute to the gene pool, I am not sure how an experienced beekeeper could proffer such and argument.

"If the demand was not there, we would not be able to supply and go out of business very quickly."

Native Irish Honey Bee Society Statement

"The Native Irish Honey Bee Society have released a statement on the matter.  NIHBS is an all-Ireland organisation of about 500 members, whose sole aim is the conservation and preservation of the population of Native Irish Honey Bees – Apis mellifera mellifera.

"Reports in the media continue about importing even more bees to Ireland and apart from the danger of hybridisation for native bees we all know there are major risks of also importing pests, diseases and pathogens – therefore a threat to ALL our bees. Everyone who loves bees, no matter what association or organisation they belong to, can appreciate the potential damage – we have seen what Varroa did, and now those who enjoy beekeeping as a hobby or who are making their living from bees may have their enjoyment/livelihood threatened - simply to increase someone else's profits.

"The Dark European Honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera (Amm) is on the brink of extinction over most of its original territory of Northern Europe. It has been hybridised due to imports of other sub species and consequent cross breeding, as well as being severely impacted by imported pests and diseases.

"Pure strains still exist throughout Ireland however and scientific research has shown that such a widespread population of pure A. m. mellifera has not been reported elsewhere in Europe."

Smoke Screen

 Patrick thinks the real reason for resistance to his plans is a smoke screen to hide the real problems and that a serious debate is needed. He also claims that GB beekeeping associations are being deserted by Beekeepers "Associations like the BBKA have overseen the beekeeping industry for many years, but a change is happening. Beekeepers are deserting associations, they currently have just 40% of all beekeepers as members, the associations have overseen the decimation of beekeeping in the UK, although some pests and diseases contribute to losses, less than 800 from disease 2019-2020 out of 264K hives. Whereas the number of lost colonies in the UK over the same period was 40,000! 2019 we had 264,000 hives in the UK by 2020 we had 224,000, this is as a direct result of poor beekeeper training overseen by the likes of BBKA who would prefer to promote an academic approach to beekeeping, theory of everything practice is very limited."

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