Bees: what's the problem?

17 June 2010

At the last count in 2008 two billion British honey bees had died over the previous winter- that's one in three of 274,000 hives managed by the 44,000 beekeepers

Many beekeepers marched on Parliament to call on the Government to fund research into what they say is potentially a bigger threat to humanity than the financial meltdown.

There are few wild honey bees left in Britain, because modern farming methods have reduced their preferred habitats. Honey bees are efficient pollinators, but they need well-trained beekeepers to look after them.

The public is deeply concerned about the plight of the honey bee. Membership of the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) has grown by more than 30 per cent over the past 12 months.

Since its arrival in 1992, the varroa mite has infected 95 per cent of British hives. Although the mite does not kill the bees, it severely weakens them, making them susceptible to infections. Untreated colonies die within three to four years.

Honey bees have become resistant to varroa mite treatments. Unless more money is spent on research, we risk losing our bees within 10 years.

The BBKA and the highly influential Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee have both been calling for the lion’s share of the £10 million Pollinator Decline Fund to be directed towards practical research into the problems that honey bees face.

Wet British summers are compounding the bees’ problems. Over the winter of 2008/09, one in five colonies died out – not as bad as 2007/08, but still worrying.

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