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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Sustainable beekeeping

Environmental sustainability demands that ecosystems are not damaged beyond their capacity to maintain their own biological processes, functions, biodiversity and natural productivity.

Sustainable beekeeping must first consider the place of honey bees within an ecosystem and their impact on its ecological services. The relationship between bees and people has become central to this understanding. People have the potential to disturb irretrievably the balance between bees and their environment, as the advent of exotic varroa mites in many countries of the world has demonstrated.

At the heartof sustainable beekeeping is the welfare of honey bees: not just at the level of the individual colony or apiary, but at the level of the whole bee population of the region. Beekeepers have often focused effort on their colony and apiary, ignoring their relationship with the wider bee populations of the locality or region. Meanwhile our social, economic and environmental activities and policies may be damaging the fundamental relationship between bees and the ecosystems on which they depend.

The aim of sustainable beekeeping should be the protection and maintenance of viable populations of indigenous bees. To do this we must first protect and maintain the bees' habitat, not just around the apiary, but in the wider region. Everyone, not just beekeepers, can participate in the broader activities of environmental protection. Principles of wildlife-friendly farming and gardening, protecting wild areas and native flora, and other activities carried out at individual, community and policy levels can all work to ensure that bees have sufficient nesting sites, forage and protection to survive and thrive.

Sustainable beekeeping also depends on the suitability of bees to their local environment. Beekeepers can contribute to the genetic fitness of bee populations by keeping only indigenous species and races of locally adapted bees. Historically, the importation of other species and races has led to a dilution of genetic fitness in wild bee populations as well as spreading disease.

Natural methods for the management of bees for sustainability will be determined by the ways the bees themselves want to live. Consequently, there may be some conflict between what the bees require and what the beekeeper requires. For example, the reproductive strategy of honey bees is to maximise their population by division, while humans may want to keep the colony whole to maximise their harvest. Methods of beekeeping should be appropriate to the local environment and local bees, and should always strive to maintain honey bee health. Beekeepers should have a positive effect on their bees and on the surrounding bee population. Thoughtless and uninformed beekeeping can have unintended negative consequences.


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