I had an interesting chat with a commercial beekeeper recently. I don’t have his permission to use his name here, so he will remain anonymous.
It is no secret that I generally disapprove of commercial, industrial-scale beekeeping, on the same grounds that I dislike battery farming and sweatshops: neither animals nor people should be mistreated for profit, nor have their labour exploited without regard for their well-being.
I asked him about his attitude to the problem with Varroa mites. “The only long-term solution for varroa is for all beekeepers to do nothing for a year or two, and breed from the survivors,” he said. “But that isn’t going to happen.”
And this is the dilemma we all face: we know that doing nothing may be the answer, but that means allowing anything up to 100% of bees to die out: no commercial beekeeper can afford to do that, and, I think, many amateurs would refuse to do that.
I think we have to face the fact that we no longer live in a completely natural world. The degree of our interference in natural processes – by pollution, industrial agriculture, forest clearances, urbanization and so on – means that there is little out there that has escaped our touch. Add to that the spreading of disease and parasites as a function of our international trade, and you have an environment for bees that is no longer the one they evolved to fit.
As we, collectively as humans, are responsible for this situation, I suggest that we, collectively as beekeepers, have a responsibility to help the bees as best we can to provide the conditions that may extend the period in which they can learn to adapt to the ‘new world’ they – and we – find ourselves in.
And to me, that means using the most natural and least invasive techniques we can – but I don’t think we do nothing, because that is tantamount to abandoning them to the conditions we have placed them in.