Bolton's ground-breaking honeybee research efforts celebrated by National Lottery

By Alec McQuarrie

David Bolton is spearheading the conservation effort to protect one of mankind’s most vital allies, the humble honeybee.

To better understand and support this resilient honeybee eco-type, in 2018 the Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association commenced a five-year project to monitor bee colonies in the locality.

The project was led by Bolton, who has been a member of the Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association for more than 20 years, one of its former chairmen and an avid conservationist.

The aim of the Wild Bee Project is to gain a better understanding of the wild honeybee population and their place in the family of pollinators and to help explain how they are reacting to environmental pressures.

Bolton has been recognised for his enthusiasm and hard work to become part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who work tirelessly to save the environment, with the help of National Lottery funding and players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.

To celebrate Bolton's incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises David Bolton’s story.
To celebrate Bolton's incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises David Bolton’s story.

To celebrate his incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises David Bolton’s story.

“About 25 years ago a parasite called Varroa came to Ireland and it’s a very pernicious parasite that drains the strength of the bees,” explained Bolton

“One of the exciting things about our project is that we began to discover there are colonies who are surviving despite the threat from Varroa.

“The bees that occupy our boxes we hope will become the bearers of sustainable genes into the future.

“Another big concern is how bad climate change is going to get. Currently we’re on a very worrying trajectory. The honeybee is a bit like the canary in the mine.

“For example, because the winters are becoming milder the queens are continuing to lay through the winter and that creates problems for the bees.”

The Wild Bee Project has seen the Fermanagh Beekeepers Association erect 16 Wild Bee boxes which allows for a fascinating insight into the species. It has been supported by The National Lottery through funding from the Lough Erne Landscape Partnership from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Bolton said: “The National Lottery funding created good links for us with other organisations, like our local men’s shed and they made four of the boxes for us, which we’re delighted with.

“We also got funding to buy some of the sensors and equipment that allows us to tackle the data. And that’s great because it makes the project so efficient for us.

“The interesting thing is that there’s not a lot of this data around. We’ve had universities asking us for our data because it’s quite unique.”

Now retired, Bolton is thrilled by the surprising findings and is equally enthused to play such an important role in nature conservation, a topic very close to his heart.

“Since being a child, I’ve lived in the fields and the woodlands and was very interested in wildlife and the natural world,” said Bolton.

“I had some great teachers at school who imbued a sense of respect, knowledge, and interest in nature.

“The other thing is I just love research, finding out how things work, why things work because by doing that we can learn, and progress can be made.

“I love just getting out into the woodlands where we have the bees, to be able to witness nature at its very best. It’s wonderful.”

Three additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things to help support the environment as part of The National Lottery’s People’s Portraits series. Also honoured with a portrait is Milly Revill Hayward from the Forsinard Flows in north Scotland, Simon Myers from charity Gasworks Dock Partnership in London and Veronika Brannovic from Torfaen Local Nature Partnership in Wales.