Beekeepers across Turkey were urged to think differently about conservation at a meeting to raise bee awareness at the weekend.

The March meeting of Arı Okolu (Bee School) was held at Cem Aybek’s Tangala Farm in the mountains above Tlos on Saturday and attended by beekeepers and enthusiasts from across the Muğla region.

Supporters were reminded the group has not been formed to save Turkey’s ten species of bee from current threats posed by insecticides and pesticides or to lead a direct lobby for action; both objectives are simply too huge for such a small group.

A honey bee gathering pollen. Picture by Steve Parsley

Bee aware

However, Cem Aybek underlined the importance of enhancing the public’s understanding of bees, their importance to Turkey’s ecosystem and what everyone can do to help them.

But, while praising Turkey’s diversity and enthusiasm for beekeeping, keynote speaker – international honey bee educator, author and self-confessed “crazy bee lady” Debra Roberts – urged apiarists to consider more natural remedies to fight the decline in bee numbers.

Although happily co-existing with some species, the spread of the verroa mite around the globe has become a particular problem, wiping out hives in worrying numbers across Europe and America.

Traditionally, infested hives have been treated with chemicals to eradicate the problem. Indeed, a straw poll among Turkish beekeepers on Saturday indicated the frequency of treatment has increased in some cases locally from once a season to almost every week.

But Ms Roberts, who runs the Holy Bee Press from her home in America, suggested leaving bees to adapt to the threat themselves may be a better long-term solution.

Leave Them Bee

“It might take several years but, in areas like Africa where chemical treatment is not always possible, hives have adapted and survived infestations of verroa mite,” she said.

“It may be that the reason we haven’t seen that happen more widely is that humans are just not giving bees enough time.”

Ms Roberts also suggested, although there has been research into how to eradicate verroa mites, little has been done to ascertain the possible consequences of long-term chemical treatment.

Some of the guests at Bee School visiting the hives. Picture by Steve Parsley

She reminded the meeting there have been examples of some species of pest becoming immune to chemicals and a strain of “super verroa” could be a real risk if alternatives are not explored.

Ms Roberts also suggested genetic modifications of bee species to enhance honey production or make them tamer for their handlers could also be hampering their ability to adapt to natural threats.

However, she applauded Arı Okulu’s initiative and objectives in the Muğla   region and added her own voice to calls for a better understanding of bees through activism.

“Bee activism sounds angry – but it doesn’t have to be that way. What we all must all do is educate, help people develop relationships with bees and do that in any way we can – through art, through community projects, through wearing jewellery linked to bees, through toys or just through everyday conversations,” she said.

More information about Muğla’s Arı Okulu is available on the group’s Facebook page at: New members are welcome and do not have to own bees; an interest in them is enough.