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Report by Helen & Peter on SICAMM

posted Jul 22, 2018, 2:18 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Aug 4, 2018, 3:41 AM ]
Peter Neary and Helen Mooney of Moy Valley Bees are just back from SICAMM (Societas Internationalis pro Conservatione Apis melliferae melliferae) 2018, Mustiala Agricultural College, two hours north of Helsinki, in Finland.  To quote their website, www.sicamm.org, SICAMM is an international union of beekeepers, regional and national associations, institutions and other groups that support a set of agreed objectives concerning conservation of this threatened subspecies.

Peter and I went to learn about the challenges faced by breeders of the dark European honey bee, across Europe.  We also got an opportunity to describe the activities and objectives of NIHBS (Native Irish Honey Bee Society) through a formal presentation prepared by NIHBS and given by Helen, but also through informal discussions as well as during the various excursions and at break times. It was all about the dark bee!  During the presentation Helen described briefly how the NIHBS committee would host SICAMM in Ireland in 2020. To view some photographs, click 

Upon arrival in Helsinki, we travelled by shuttle bus from Helsinki airport for 2 hours, to Mustiala and stayed in a hotel in the neighbouring town of Forssa.  The conference had use of three college mini buses and there were three volunteer drivers who brought people to and from their accommodation at 8.30am each morning and again at 6pm if people wanted to change before the evening activities, and once again when the activities finished. Campus accomodation was also available. 


After a brief opening ceremony on the Thursday evening, lectures were scheduled for the next three days and  fell into roughly three categories.  There were several lectures on DNA analysis of dark bees, in Ireland, Plymouth (B4 project), Switzerland with a description from Alice Pintot based in Portugal on how the DNA assays were optimised.  There seems to be strong collaboration between all of these researchers, many of whom are co-authors of the recently published Irish research paper 'A significant pure population of the dark European honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) remains in Ireland' which has been published as a result of research in collaboration with Jack Hassett, Keith A Browne, Grace P McCormack, Elizabeth Moore, Native Irish Honey Bee Society, Gabrielle Soland, Michael Geary.  All of the scientists we spoke to expressed an interest in attending, and indeed presenting further data in Ireland in 2020.  

The second category of lectures was also scientific and included lectures on the SMART BEES project as well as Ralph Buchler’s ongoing research into Varroa.  His lecture was academic but with a huge practical element that everyone grasped.  He detailed proven trials on how we need to alter the timing and nature of our varroa treatments to include biotechnical methods (brood interruption) as opposed to winter chemical treatments.  There were many lectures on morphological data of dark bees across Europe but without any DNA data.  Alice Pinto’s latest research has optimised the use SNPs and thus brought costs down so that the next stage for the morphological research just mentioned is now to compare that data with DNA research. Ireland would seem to be pioneering this research within Europe.

The third category of lectures included ongoing reports of statistics on colony numbers in various EU countries, with a break-down of how many are dark bee colonies.  It also included stats on the density of colonies in those countries and things like colony loss.  Only in Switzerland are there three areas of conservation that are protected by law.  But the law is constantly flouted and in effect, useless.  Padruot Fried says it is very frustrating as it only takes one Carnica breeder to ruin the work at the mating station he has helped to set up.  He says the laws are needed and that SICAMM need to unite on this but that in the meantime he advised us to get funding to set up regional mating stations as this incentivises bee breeders and helps guarantee a supply of dark queens. 

There were some very pleasant lectures on Finnish honey and the native forage as well as a description of how beekeepers are trained in the agricultural college which included a tour of the training apiary and honey house.