Unusual weather patterns are affecting bees and pollination

After another year of beekeeping, the SWCBKA reported at its AGM (November 2012) that bees in West Cork are still having a tough time.  Global warming is creating drought in some parts of the world - in the west of Ireland it is bringing damper and colder weather than usual.  Temperatures during the late spring, when the bees need a few warm days to emerge from hibernation and mate, were consistently lower than the 20 degrees they needed.  So queens were slow to mate and swarms were late to form.

Bee keepers in Whitelands examine their colonies
Worrying too is that climate changes are causing bees and flowers to become out of synch with each other.  Bees survive by feeding on plants, and plants fruit by being pollinated by bees.  So if the bees are late and the flowers are early, an increasing pattern in latter years, they both lose out.   As reported in the Guardian, last year "climate change may be causing flowers to open before bees emerge from hibernation leading to declines in pollination".

Wrong weather at the wrong time
Tim Lovett, director of public affairs at the British Beekeepers' Association, reported in Climate wire that "weather has a huge impact on honeybee survival. What seems to be happening is that we in the U.K. are getting more extremes of weather at either end of our normal range."

"The wrong weather at the wrong time can be very bad for bees," he added. "One of the major causes of loss among honeybees in the spring is starvation. There are suddenly thousands of new mouths to feed. If they wake early and the plants are still asleep, then there is trouble. Likewise, if the plants wake early and the bees are still asleep and miss the first flush, then there can also be trouble."

One bee-keeper's experience
In Brighton bee-keeper Amanda Miller describes her story to climate connections. "I have been keeping bees for ten years and find that every year brings its challenges. Although the experts are debating how climate change will affect us, on a local scale it seems as though we are to expect more extremes of weather.

Bees can stand cold weather well but I don't think colder winters are on the cards. What they do find difficult is periods of drought when the plants are so water stressed that they are unable to produce enough nectar for the bees' needs. In the 2011 drought we had to feed our bees in the summer to prevent them from starving. Warm autumns may be pleasant for us; with temperatures up to 19 degrees C in November 2011, but this keeps the bees active instead of going into a quiescent cluster and, with no flowers to speak of, they use up their honey stores which should be keeping them going over the winter. Warm autumns like we had in 2011 also mean the queen continues to lay eggs and they raise new bees enabling parasitic Varroa mites to continue to breed".

Barry Hayes, Liam Hodnett, Gobnait O'Donovan
Fortunately there were some good days in early June in Cork to make up for the late spring, and the delayed hive demonstration given by the SWCBKA was a success.  However, plans to produce colonies and queens to help struggling bee-keepers had to be delayed because of the poor weather.

The association is forging ahead this year instead.  Led by the re-elected committee of  Liam Hodnett, Chair, Gobnait O' Donovan secretary and Barry Hayes Treasurer,  colonies will be started and queens reared by the association with the aim of producing a surplus of queens.  These can be given to members of the association to help their own colonies, and traded with other bee-keeping societies across the West Cork area.  This will have the added benefit of improving the stock across the county and countering the in-breeding that can weaken bee colonies.

Meanwhile an unusual year for weather draws to a close with late flowering of fir and heather.  Bees are at least enjoying a stock of pollen to take to the hives for winter.  It may give them a better start to 2013.