Beekeepers protest over hive deaths

More money for research demanded as disease, mites and weather wipe out insects


In top-to-toe white outfits with distinctive veiled hoods, they do not look like the usual kind of protesters to march on Downing Street.

But today Britain's beekeepers will stride down Whitehall to demand government action to halt the alarming decline in honey bee numbers seen over the last year.

Two billion bees – one in three of Britain's honey bee colonies – have been lost over the past 12 months, in the worst losses ever seen in the UK. Yet the causes are unclear, and the apiarists fear there is nothing to prevent a similar devastation this winter – but the Government, they say, is letting it happen.

Hundreds of members of the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) from all over the country will deliver a petition to No 10 signed by more than 140,000 members of the public, calling for an immediate increase in research funding – from what the BBKA terms the "paltry" £200,000 currently spent annually on bee health research, to £1.6m annually for the next five years.

The association claims that pollination by bees would be worth £825m to the agricultural economy over the same period, and says they are asking for less than 1 per cent of that. But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that it cannot afford it.

"The increased funding we are asking for is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of pounds the government has found for bank bailouts," said Tim Lovett, the BBKA president. "Bees are probably one of the most economically useful creatures on earth, pollinating a third of all we eat. They provide more than 50 per cent of pollination of wild plants on which birds and mammals depend. We must identify what is killing them, and that means research."

Paul Temple, vice-president of the National Farmers' Union, said honey bees were an underpinning component of the British countryside – "whether it's heather moorland, a hedgerow, an orchard or a field of beans."

He said: "Our bee farmers and beekeepers are the custodians of every single honey bee in our countryside, and they are facing devastating bee health problems. To solve these problems we need comprehensive and co-ordinated research to be undertaken urgently. And one thing is clear, current levels of government funding are nowhere near enough to support such research."

Rowse Honey, the UK's leading honey company, warns that English beekeepers' honey will run out in the supermarkets by Christmas, and has committed £100,000 to support research into bee health at Sussex University.

Other industry groups are expected to help, but the BBKA says this does not relieve the Government of its responsibility to provide research funding.

The cause of the enormous losses of the last year is thought to be a combination of disease, linked to a particularly virulent hive pest, the varroa mite, and the appalling weather of the last two summers, which has also hit other insects hard. But the exact nature of the disease varies between hives, and the beekeepers feel that research to understand the processes by which colonies are lost is urgent and essential.

"Without beekeepers to look after them there would be no honey bees in the UK," Mr Lovett said. "Despite the best efforts of our members, bees are suffering as the varroa mites who weaken colonies and spread viruses are becoming resistant to treatments. This is all on top of the bad weather, especially the wet summers, over which we have no control. There is currently no 'magic bullet' for controlling varroa. We must have more research."

In the UK there are about 44,000 beekeepers who manage about 274,000 hives, which produce 6,000 tonnes of honey a year. The varroa mite reached the UK in 1992 and now infests 95 per cent of hives. Untreated colonies die in three to four years.

The apiarist: 'You expect losses, but nothing like this'

Robin Dartington has kept bees for 45 years and is used to losses in the winter but not on the scale he has experienced over the past year. He has lost nine of his 20 colonies in Hitchin, Hertfordshire (a colony is the swarm of bees in a hive). "You might expect losses of perhaps 10 per cent, but nothing like this," he said. "It's very depressing."The National Bee Unit found his bees had died from a combination of a virus associated with the varroa mite and a stomach disorder. "We need more research into what the diseases are, which are becoming endemic and in what combinations."

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk