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Absence of rain and severe frosts – main challenges for Dinara beekeepers

Climate change is the biggest obstacle to sustainable beekeeping – it is the conclusion reached at the round-table discussion “Challenges in beekeeping” held in Vrlika at the start of February. Specifically, disturbance in precipitation regime and more frequent droughts have a negative impact on vegetation, especially on wild honey plants; the absence of heavy rains in spring causes a delay in vegetation, making it difficult for honeybees to survive during increasingly dry summers; sporadic late-spring frosts have adverse effects on plants and yield. Beekeepers have also detected a new climate pattern – frequent occurrence of strong bura wind after rainfall which then very quickly dries out the soil.

The main activity of “Dinara back to LIFE” project is the restoration of Dinara grasslands due to their importance for nature and the biodiversity itself, which will benefit all the Dinara residents. Beekeepers, users of Dinara grasslands, are stakeholders in the project, which supports them with interconnecting and advocating solutions to their benefit. Round table discussions are also held to create space for dialogue and discussion, which can help bring out the issues, and ultimately enable beekeepers and decision-makers to create better conditions for beekeeping through stronger cooperation, and thus provide indirect environmental and economic benefits for this area.

Attendees of the second beekepers round table discussion in the project, held in Vrlika were beekeepers associations from the northern part of Dinara, BA „Dinara“ from Vrlika, BA „Vrisak“ from Kijevo and BA „Drača“ from Knin. The first round table discussion, held in Sinj in October, gathered representatives of beekeepers associations from the southern part of the project area, which includes the towns of Sinj and Trilj, and the municipalities of Otok and Hrvace.

Mirko Ljubičić, the president of the Split-Dalmatia county Beekeepers Association, mr. sc. Zora Kažimir on the behalf of the Public institution MORE I KRŠ, Ivica Mastelić on the behalf of the town of Sinj and Martin Ercegovac, Mayor of Kijevo, expressed support for beekeepers in Vrlika and Sinj with their participation in said events.

At the round table discussion in Vrlika, organized by the LAG „Cetinska Krajina“, which gathered around 20 beekeepers, it was emphasized that climate change in recent years has been making beekeeping in this area unprofitable, so more and more beekeepers are giving up, even those who have been doing it for years during which they obtained a lot of beehives. On the other hand, new beekeepers are starting to get involved in beekeeping. Seasonal pressure also occurs in this area – Dinara beekeepers claim that the recommended pressure is about 10 hives per square kilometer, yet during the season beekeepers start to come from other regions, so there can be up to 5000 hives in the region at that time.

Due to the lack of bee forage, beekeepers suggest planting trees and shrubs, such as winter savory, sage, lavender, rosemary, linden and chestnut, since they are the most suitable species for this area. Rosemary is particularly interesting as a plant that blooms twice a year. Given the climatic characteristics of this area, the most suitable trees are the ones resistant to high-temperature differences throughout the year. Beekeepers’ advice is to plant honey plants in public areas, which requires the consent of Croatian Forestry and Croatian Waters. Another proposition would be planting windbreaks consisting of honey trees, which had already been done last year in Sinjsko polje, where black alder, white willow and linden were planted.

Beekeepers are interested in purchasing a larger number of honey plant seedlings to plant next to their lots, an idea which received support from the mayor of Kijevo. Seedlings would be purchased through beekeepers associations for a lower purchase price. They also stated that other farmers disapprove if they try to plant honey plants on their initiative.

Maintaining the bees’ health is a key activity for hives preservation which is why it is required to treat hives twice a year, although a need for three treatments may occur as varroa becomes more resistant. Additional financial pressure regarding treatment comes from the regulation which states that the beekeeper must buy remedies in advance. The state later refunds the remedy purchase. However, it is sometimes difficult for retirees among beekeepers to set aside several thousand kunas at once for this purpose. A bigger problem even is the lack of sustainable incentive system. Incentives in agriculture are currently calculated per unit (e.g. hectare or head), with the exception of beekeeping. The state co-finances only the purchase of equipment for beekeepers, so they want to propose an idea of a system of incentives per hive.

Beekeepers proposed cooperation with Croatian Forestry in regards to cleaning, restoration and expansion of existing forest tracks. Due to their poor condition, some of them pose an obstacle to utilizing Dinara higher areas for bee forage, especially during the summer. It would be important to form road widenings, e.g. building stops for beekeepers to enable them to park or turn their transport vehicles. Forestries now have the opportunity to incorporate these ideas into their management plans.

One of the topics discussed at the round table was the communal treatment against mosquitoes carried out by local self-government units. Harmful effects to bees occur when the insecticide is sprayed using vehicles that pass through inhabited areas. The beekeepers believe that the solution could be in aerial spraying or direct treatment of the wet habitats, the source of mosquito-spread.

The aim of this, as well as the other round table discussions, is to analyze the current situation, combine interests and define steps for the implementation of the agreed agenda. As a result of the round table discussion held in Vrlika, guidelines will be determined for planting honey plants, both in public and private areas.

News published in February could encourage Dinara beekeepers to continue and perhaps even expand their businesses. Namely, Oilseed company from Osijek is offering honey plants’ seeds, as well as several indigenous plants that are hard to obtain. Given the difficulties in obtaining seeds of honey plants, with the exception of phacelia and buckwheat, beekeepers have the opportunity to easily obtain various types of plants such as white melilot, sainfoin, red clover, white mustard, camelina and others.

In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture will be implementing „School Honey Day from Croatian apiaries“ again this year with the goal to educate children and their parents about the importance of consuming honey, while promoting honey from Croatian apiaries. This improves market positioning for Croatian beekeepers, which also makes an additional opportunity for Dinara beekeepers.

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Beekeepers roundtable: The biggest challenge – climate change

The first round table within the Dinara back to LIFE project was held in Sinj, organized by the Cetina Krajina LAG, and the topic was beekeeping and the challenges facing the local beekeeper. The meeting was attended by representatives of beekeepers, local governments, public institutions for nature management, LAG, and the Biom Association.

In the Cetina region, about 250 beekeepers own about 12,000 hives, and in the last two years the coronavirus has made it difficult to place honey on the market, while increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions have affected the seasonal delay of vegetation. The main topic of the round table was encouraging planting of honey plants in green public and private areas with the aim of improving bee grazing.

As the main current problem, beekeepers unanimously pointed out climate change and several years of drought which makes beekeeping much more difficult in general, and especially stationary beekeeping. It is for this reason that the planting of honey plants and trees that better tolerate drought and bloom in spring or autumn has been proposed, and it is to be expected that indigenous species are more resistant and adapted to local climatic conditions. For beekeepers affected by drought, the renovation project of wells and ponds was presented as indirect support.

Tomislav Sotinac, an expert associate for nature protection at the Dinara back to LIFE project, has presented the idea of action cleaning of overgrown and polluted areas owned by local government units, provided that honey plants are then planted on those areas.

Ivan Budinski, expert project advisor for nature protection, suggested planting honey trees along embankments and canals leading from the settlements to the fields. In this way the number of trees in the area would increase due to elongation. This activity would require the approval of Hrvatske vode public company.

The participants of the round table also mentioned the problem of medicines for varroa, which are subsidized to beekeepers by the state, although they are not effective, while those medicines that are effective are still not available or approved in Croatia. Beekeepers have cited the potential for breaking through, clearing and widening forest fire roads that can be of great benefit to them when accessing certain locations.

The main activity of the Dinara back to LIFE project is the restoration of Dinaric grasslands due to their importance for nature and overall biodiversity, and the restoration of grasslands will benefit all residents of the Dinara area, including beekeepers. The organization of round tables is an introduction to further activities of holding rural development workshops, all in order to further encourage the development of primary activities in the wider project area.