Belfast Lord Mayor, councillor Nuala McAllister, officially opened the new Buzz Stop today.
The Buzz Stop is home to a hive of 2,000 Irish black honeybees. The colony arrived on 2 August 2017 and following a settling in period, they were put on view to visitors today for the first time.
The Lord Mayor said: “In a world of rapidly diminishing habitats, disappearing species and increasing urbanisation, zoos are increasingly and uniquely placed to connect people to their natural environment. Belfast Zoo plays an active role in the conservation of exotic species from around the world. It is too easy to distance ourselves from the worrying trends and threats facing wildlife on a global scale but it is something that is also prevalent on our own doorstep as evidenced by the decline in bee populations.”
The Lord Mayor continues: “The new Buzz Stop demonstrates the zoo’s innovative approach to the development and implementation of a proactive conservation strategy for local wildlife to manage the situation before it is too late. Bees are of huge economic and ecological importance and are critical to our survival. Biodiversity and people are inextricably linked and we have a responsibility to protect and enhance our local biodiversity for future generations.”
The Irish black honeybee is native to Ireland. The latin name of this insect is Apis mellifera mellifera, ‘Apis’ meaning ‘bee’ and ‘mellifera’ meaning ‘honeybearer’. Black bees are much darker and have evolved thicker, longer hair and a large body than their golden-coloured, southern European cousins. This allows them to keep warm in the cooler climates of Britain and Ireland, which is thought to be one of the reasons for a reduction in honeybee colonies, by up to 30%, in recent years. Three bee species have become extinct in Ireland within the last 80 years, with many more species in decline.
Bees are vitally important to their environment as they are essential for pollination of crops and native flora. However, populations are being adversely effected by the loss of habitats and nesting sites, the decline in wildflowers which provide food for the bees, disease, poisoning through agricultural chemical controls including insecticides, pesticides and herbicides and the impact of climate change.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said: “In recent years we have worked with local partners and have developed a number of effective native species projects for species including barn owls, hedgehogs, swifts, bats, white-tailed sea eagles and our successful red squirrel breeding programme. We are proud to be the only zoo in Northern Ireland who are keeping these bees and we are uniquely placed to deliver the educational and conservation message about bees to a high volume of visitors in a fun and interactive setting with an aim to instilling a lifelong enthusiasm for wildlife. We have worked closely with local wildlife organisations including the Belfast and District Beekeepers Association who have guided the development of the Buzz Stop and have also trained our staff to care for our new colony”
Alyn continues, “Our Cave Hill location also provides a perfect foraging area for the bees while our new Buzz Stop has an observation hive to allow close and safe access to watch the 2000 bees at work. The area also includes interpretation to educate visitors about the importance of the Irish black honeybee. While we have started with a hive of 2000 bees, by this time next year there could be as many as 20,000 and the hive has been developed, with this in mind. We are delighted to play such an active role in the city’s approach to the protection of local biodiversity and we can’t wait to see how it develops in the future.”
The Buzz Stop is now officially open for visitors to enjoy.
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