Crisis may be over for honey bees as more survive winter

More honey bee colonies made it through this winter than last year despite the harsh conditions, the British Beekeepers' Association says today. But while there was a "small and encouraging improvement" in survival rates this year, the UK's honey bees are still not healthy enough, the organisation's president Martin Smith warns.

According to figures collected by the BBKA, 17 per cent of colonies across the UK were lost over the winter. However there were significant regional variations, with losses of more than a quarter of colonies (26 per cent) in the north of England compared to just 12.8 per cent in the South-west. In 2008-09, 19 per cent of colonies did not make it through the winter, while "disastrous" losses in 2007-08 saw 30 per cent die.

Mr Smith said: "It shows our honey bees are slowly moving out of intensive care, but they are still not healthy enough. Winter losses between 7 per cent and 10 per cent are acceptable. The current rate is not and neither are the vast regional differences.

"Yet there is no answer to what is causing the losses. Disease, bad weather and poor nutrition due to habitat loss are the prime suspects."

He called for more research into the causes of declines in honey bees in order to help sustain the increased survival rates.

And he said: "British beekeepers are having to work even harder at this time of year to replace their missing colonies so as to keep the honey flowing, and to maintain the 'pollination army' on which we depend for so much of our food and the beauty of our countryside."

The survey also revealed that beekeepers are taking steps to rebuild bee stocks, with the average number of hives being kept by each keeper rising from 3.7 in 2007 to 4.7 this year.