More support was needed to stem the otherwise “inevitable” decline of the Maltese honeybee, a conservation NGO has warned.

Darryl Grech, the administrator of NGO Breeds of Origin Conservancy, told the Times of Malta the conservation of the Maltese honeybee was seriously threatened but efforts were underway to save it.

A two-week conservation study on Comino took place earlier this year to observe and gather data on the “endangered” honeybee, he said. The study involved the setting up a number of mating hives on the island.

Mr Grech said the Maltese honey-bee was being replaced by other species, which was endangering the small population of Maltese honeybees that remained.

Maintaining our locally-adapted Maltese black honeybee population is of vital importance to preserve biodiversity

Support was required to encourage conservation efforts and research activities to avoid the decline, he said.

Mr Grech pointed out that the country’s limited size made it difficult to find suitable isolated mating areas for the Maltese honeybee.

The fact that honeybee colonies could easily be imported represented a common threat to all of the native honeybee populations, particularly due to it being a small, closed genetic population.

The Maltese honeybee has a poor reputation among some beekeepers, which Mr Grech said was partly based on insufficient knowledge, inadequate selection or poor management routines.

He said such opinions were mainly based on the “old bad reputation” of the Maltese honeybee as being aggressive and having a high swarming tendency.

The NGO is supporting a joint data-gathering project on the Maltese honeybee between the University of Malta and the Hessen Bee Institute, in Germany.

Additionally, the Maltese Beekeepers Associations, in collaboration with the University of Malta and Breeds of Origin Conservancy, is coordinating a breeding programme under the EU supported Smartbees project.

The programme involves the study of bees to better understand their temperament, swarming tendencies, honey production and resistance to the varroa mite.

Mr Grech described this as a huge step forward for the conservation and sustainable use of the Maltese honeybee.

He said the most essential component to safeguard the Maltese honeybee was good coordination and cooperation between all actors involved.

“Maintaining our locally-adapted Maltese black honeybee population is of vital importance to preserve biodiversity and for obtaining different products with potentially unique characteristics.

“One should keep in mind that Europe is home to only 10 of the 27 currently recognised honeybee subspecies, with one of them being the Maltese honeybee,” Mr Grech remarked.

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