12.05.2017 change 12.05.2017

The great return of wild beehives to Polish forests

Honey produced in tree hollows contains more pollen, wax and tree resin than the honey from man-made beehives. For centuries, harvesting wild honey was more profitable than hunting or trading timber. Poland has attempted to restore wild beehives in its forests.

Archaeological sources indicate that in the Polish lands, wild honey harvesting was already known 2000 years ago. This branch of agriculture flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Back then, wild honey was so valued that harvesting it was a more profitable activity than timber trading and hunting. This situation continued until the nineteenth century.

According to Dr. Beata Madras-Majewska, head of the Beekeeping Laboratory at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, the development of agriculture and associated massive deforestation has resulted in a significant decrease of the number of forest bee habitats, contributing to the gradual disappearance of wild honey harvesting. The tsar\'s ban on beekeeping in the woods in the mid-nineteenth century played a decisive role in the disappearance of the centuries-old tradition of production of wild honey. This resulted in a decrease in honey bee populations, including native Central European bees, and changes in forest ecosystems.

"In our latitude, the forest was a natural habitat for honey bee, which adapted to those conditions over thousands of years of evolution. It was a part of the natural fauna and, at the same time provided invaluable services, pollinating the plants in the area. The activity of honey bee thus supported biodiversity in the forest environment and the stability of this ecosystem" - explained Dr. Beata Madras-Majewska, quoted in the WULS-SGGW release.

Poland has attempted to restore wild honey harvesting in its forests. The most important project in this area is "Traditional beekeeping to save wild bees in the forest", which is supported by Norwegian funds and carried out by Forest Districts: Augustów, Supraśl, Maskulińskie and Browsk in cooperation with honey harvesters Bashkiria. Since the project has many aspects, including the economic ones, the State Forests have requested the support of the scientists from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences.

The attempt to restore wild honey harvesting in Poland is primarily aimed at restoring the insect-pollinator populations - at least locally - in the economic forests and national parks. It is also an opportunity to restore the primitive native Central European bee in the forest ecosystems.

"Bees are an important link in the biocoenosis of the forest, and they contribute to the increase in the number of seeds produced by many species of trees, which is conducive to the natural regeneration of tree stands. The pollinated flowers of the trees and the forest shrubs increase the yields of their fruits, which constitute the food of many species of birds" - said Dr. Madras-Majewska.

Increasing the population of wild bees benefit will not only the environment. According to WULS-SGGW release, properly conducted wild honey harvesting can perform "extra-productive" functions in the forests. As an additional tourist attraction, it creates the opportunity for a cultural revival of the region and possible additional source of income for the local population. Wild honey is also a very attractive product - it is a unique product, obtained by traditional methods and originating from ecologically clean forest areas. "Honey bees inhabiting wild beehives and logs produce honey, which contains nectar and pollen from wild plants, and is also characterized by higher content of bee pollen, pollen, wax, tree resin and honeydew than honey from man-made beehives, which determines the high antioxidant potential of the product" - reads the WULS-SGGW release.

It is also important that wild honey harvesting can significantly contribute to saving bees. Their decline is one of the major challenges of modern agriculture and environmental protection. Restoring the primitive, native breeds in the ecosystem can significantly improve the condition of the whole species.

Inhabited wild beehives and logs can now be found in the Spalskie Forest, the Świętokrzyska Forest, the national parks of Biebrza and Wigry. Approx. 40 wild beehives and logs have been started in the forests of north-eastern Poland. "Within the framework of the scientific part of the project, the WULS-SGGW experts have conducted and coordinated research on the condition of bee populations that inhabit wild beehives and logs, their varieties and the quality of honey" - said Dr. Madras-Majewska. The results show that the health condition of the bee populations is good and the heavy metals content in insects, honey and wax does not exceed the current standards.

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