By Glenda McCarthy
As the snow recedes and flowers start to bloom, members of the newly formed Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeepers Association are working to develop a colony of their own. They’re hoping to not only hoping to create a buzz around beekeeping in this province, but also promote our bees in the fight against colony collapse disorder.
Dr. Barry Hicks, an entomologist who teaches biology at the college’s Carbonear campus, is a founding member and current vice-president of the association.
Dr. Hicks holds a bachelor of science as well as a master’s degree in biology from Memorial University. As a recipient of the Rothermere Foundation Fellowship, he completed a PhD in Forest Entomology at Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Thus far his main areas of research include invasive insect species and their impact on the Newfoundland insect fauna, insect population dynamics, and biological control using pathogenic fungi and pollination by native bees. Now Dr. Hicks hopes to use that very background to aid the honey bee in this province.
“The honey bee here in Newfoundland does not have the same problems that are believed to be causing colony collapse disorder in other parts of the globe. We don’t have the diseases that are affecting honeybees elsewhere,” he explains.
According to Dr. Hicks, through colony collapse disorder, bees are leaving their hives to forage but not coming back, causing the colony to die out and beekeepers to lose large portions of their hives. Scientists believe it is caused by a combination of diseases and parasites, the overuse of insecticide in agriculture, and the bees being stressed and overworked. However, one place that isn’t happening is right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We don’t have that combination,” Dr. Hicks says. “We do not have the intensive farming we see elsewhere so our honeybees are not exposed to the same levels of pesticides. The use of pesticides is a concern for us in the province but our bees aren’t overworked because there is not a lot of agriculture.”
The last component affecting bees globally is disease. Newfoundland honeybees have neither parasitic mites Varroa mites nor Tracheal mites, which Dr. Hicks says he believes to be the main cause of producing colony collapse disorder.
“The Varroa mite and Tracheal mite can put extra stress on bees and cause them to die out, but since we are the only place on the planet that doesn’t have those diseases, Newfoundland bees should be a global asset. We should be marketing our clean bees and selling them to other markets on the planet.”
That’s where the Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeepers Association plans to make an impact. He says that while they are a newly formed association and still in the growing phase, one of their mandates is to help protect the Newfoundland and Labrador honeybee.
“We put this group together to promote honeybee keeping but also to promote the health of our honeybees, to try to keep our honeybees as clean as possible and to try to stop the importation of bees. It’s illegal to import bees but they still get in.”
In fact, he wrote a research paper last year on the history and present status of honeybee keeping in this province for the Osprey, a quarterly magazine of Nature Newfoundland and Labrador.
Dr. Hicks has a vast history in research, although not all has been conducted in his current position as an instructor at Carbonear campus. He has been with CNA since 1993, first at Bonavista campus as an instructor for the Fish and Wildlife Technician program, then as an instructor of biology at Carbonear campus. He has contributed to nearly 50 publications and has presented at several national and international conferences. He hopes to use his experience to bring more attention to beekeeping in this province and encourages people to join the association.
There are roughly 25-30 individuals in this province maintaining close to 300 hives. And while the vast majority of the beekeepers are hobbyists, Dr. Hicks says they are passionate about their bees and the beekeeping lifestyle.
For more information the Newfoundland and Labrador Bee Keeping Association visit their website at www.nlbeekeeping.ca/