Beekeepers fight for sweeter future
East Anglia's beekeepers have launched a trailblazing initiative worth more than �100,000 to secure the future of the nation's honey bees.While a high profile campaign raised public awareness of the plight of the bees, threatened by the killer varroa mite which now infests 95pc of hives, it failed to garner the government to move quickly to fund more research into the problem.
East Anglia's beekeepers have launched a trailblazing initiative worth more than �100,000 to secure the future of the nation's honey bees.
While a high profile campaign raised public awareness of the plight of the bees, threatened by the killer varroa mite which now infests 95pc of hives, it failed to garner the government to move quickly to fund more research into the problem.
A recent survey revealed nearly one in three of the UK's 274,000 colonies did not survive last winter and spring, with about 20,000 bees in each hive.
Now members of the East Anglian Bee Forum, led by the West Norfolk Beekeepers, have decided to do something for themselves and obtained funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to investigate the deadly parasite.
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The money, together with some �16,000 pledged by beekeepers in west Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Peterborough, Huntingdon and Essex in the next four years, will fund a PhD research studentship investigating the interaction between the honey bees and varroa.
David Bancalari , a member of the West Norfolk Beekeepers and industry supervisor for the research, said: “This project brings beekeepers and researchers closer together, a very necessary step to ensuring that all involved in beekeeping agree the priorities for research. It is a first for BBSRC to work with beekeepers in this way - the combination of excellent science and committed beekeepers has been at the heart of this research funding.”
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It comes as the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published a 10 year plan aimed at protecting and improving the health of honey bees in England and Wales.
Healthy Bees was drafted in consultation with beekeeping organisations and aims to sustain honey bee populations by supporting beekeepers to minimise risk from pests and disease.
The first stage of the plan will attempt to identify and contact perhaps as many as 20,000 amateur beekeepers, to make sure that they are aware of the need to alert the National Bee Unit (NBU) to bee health problems and encourage them to register on BeeBase, its database of beekeepers.
The last two years have seen recorded losses of between 10 to 15pc in bee numbers although it is possible that real losses are significantly higher due to the number of beekeepers not in contact with the NBU.
Launching the plan, environment minister Jane Kennedy said: “Bees are just about the most hard working of insects. They help put food on our plates as they produce honey and pollinate other plants, many of which produce food themselves. We need to do all we can to safeguard the health of honey bees. This plan is a blueprint for doing that.”
In the UK there are approximately 44,000 beekeepers managing around 274,000 hives.
They produce 6000 tones of honey per year.
Each hive is worth about �600 to the agricultural economy.
In the UK, we produce only 20pc of the honey we consume - the rest is imported.
The varroa mite reached the UK in 1992 and now infests 95pc of hives. Untreated colonies die in 2-3 years. Even low populations of mites reduce vitality and increase the spread of viruses.
To collect a pound of honey a bee might have to fly a distance equivalent to twice round the world. This is likely to involve more than 10,000 flower visits on perhaps 500 foraging trips.