Recognising Maltese Honey Bee as national insect will not lead to increased bureaucracy, NGO insists

The Foundation for the Conservation of the Maltese Bee is calling on the Environment and Resources Authority to declare the Maltese Honey Bee as the national insect for Malta

Maltese Honey Bee (Apis mellifera ruttneri)
Maltese Honey Bee (Apis mellifera ruttneri)

The concern that legal protection as the ‘national insect’ for the Maltese Honeybee will lead to increased bureaucracy in the apiculture industry is unfounded, the Foundation for the Conservation of the Maltese Bee has said.

“Recognising the necessity to safeguard the honey bee’s genetic integrity implies a natural consequence of regulating its use and related activities. The alternative is risking the complete loss of the subspecies through genetic hybridisation,” the NGO said.

The foundation is calling on the Environment and Resource Authority (ERA) to declare the Maltese Honey Bee (Apis mellifera ruttneri) as the National Insect for Malta.

In a letter signed by the Foundation, it detailed how the Maltese Honey Bee is indigenous to and exists only within the Maltese archipelago, yet its genetic purity is being threatened due to cross-breeding with foreign bee species.

This is detrimental to the local subspecies as cross-breeding, which leads to ‘hybridisation’, is resulting in the Maltese Honey Bee losing its evolutionary traits which make living in the Maltese climate more difficult. In fact, climate change was cited as another threat to the endemic bee population.

The Foundation also cited the massive value of the endemic species, mainly its enrichment of the local biodiversity and its central role in sustainable bee-keeping.

“Our objective is not to undermine the sector; but to enhance it. The sector is currently grappling with substantial challenges and is perilously close to collapse due to various reasons. The status quo is no longer viable. We advocate for the sector’s sustainability to ensure its continuation for future generations,” it said.

The foundation was reacting to an open letter sent by 'Breeds of Origin Conservancy', which expressed its concern on giving the Maltese Honeybee legal protection.

“If the Maltese honey bee were to be designated this status, the enhancement of its conservation, along with that of the environment, would become imperative,” it said.

The foundation said legal protection would give added protection to the apiculture industry because beekeeping would become an important tool to secure the Maltese honey bee’s continued survival, including in terms of genetic purity.

“Colonies would continue to be managed in their current manner, and the sale of honey would remain unaffected. If anything, the locally produced honey in the Maltese islands augments its value and prestige, as it would become a local product derived from an endemic subspecies, also designated as the National Species of Malta,” it said.

Leveraging its protection can transform the honey bee into a flagship species, promoting broader conservation efforts for the protection of the environment. Furthermore, being recognised as a national insect compels greater commitment from authorities to ensure the honey bee’s protection.

Legal protection, according to the foundation, would also foresee increased apitourism, with tourists and foreign beekeepers eager to witness this rare subspecies in its Maltese habitat.

“Moreover, we anticipate the creation of more jobs related to the conservation and enhancement of our endemic subspecies. Malta can take a leading role in conservation efforts, serving as a mentor for other countries that wish to embark on this path,” the statement read.