22-year-old Cork student Niamh Damery has won a major award for her attempts to solve the problem of the declining population of the native Irish Black Bee.
Niamh, who attends University of Limerick, harnessed natural materials to create a conservation hive, the Econooc.
Her efforts have been rewarded with the James Dyson Award, which champions ground-breaking concepts in engineering and design.
Experts estimate that third of all bees could be extinct by 2030, which would cause a major crisis for wildlife and horticulture as they are the most effective pollinators and will take many of our flowering plants, fruits and birds with them.
"Although bees are so small, they play a huge such a huge role in nature and the environment all around us," Niamh said. "My Dad kept bees, as did my Grandfather before him, and I've always been surrounded by bees and had a love for them. With the commercialisation of beekeeping, many are importing other strains of bees which are breeding with the Irish Black Bee, and these strains are not able to survive in the Irish weather as well as the Black Bee. This is leading to population decline of honeybees in Ireland.
"Through talking to people and through my research I was shocked to find out that so many of of us, both young and old, didn't know that much about biodiversity."
Niamh aims to combat this issue by creating a mycelium hive which biomimics the shape of a tree hollow, this is the perfect shape for bees to move around in a cluster during the winter months. The base is made from mycelium, which is grown from mushrooms and acts as a binding agent when grown on a substrate. This can be any agricultural bi product that would normally end up as waste. Mycelium is similar to polystyrene and also has natural substances that can give the bees an extra defence against the varroa mite which can carry viruses into a hive. The Econooc is a segmented self-assembly hive, which makes it smaller to transport, and easier to grow and repair.
The bottom remoulded waste plastic landing pad and ventilation hole allows people to watch the bees inside the hive. The Econooc also comes with a calendar that teaches the user about biodiversity and how to create a more diverse garden. The lower section of the calendar is made from wildflower seeded paper which the user can plant.
"I hope the Econooc will encourage more people to think about nature and solutions we can implement to ensure the survival of bees in the future," Niamh said
Barry Sheehan, Head of Design at Technological University Dublin and judge on this year’s panel says: “We were unanimously drawn to Niamh’s creative innovation around this urgent issue of the declining bee population in Ireland.
“In the current climate people are spending more time outside and in gardens, and the Econooc demonstrates the crucial role that design plays in a sustainable future and the survival of Irish Black Bees.”
Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject €2,000 into Niamh’s project, which she aims to invest into advanced prototyping and further research.
Niamh will progress to the international stage of the James Dyson Award. International prizes will be announced on November 19.