The varroa mite - which infects bee larvae so generations become increasingly weakened and deformed - is threatening honey and market-garden businesses and beekeepers are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to provide a compensation pay-out similar to that offered where cattle are affected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
Tony Fisher, an amateur beekeeper of Canterbury, warns that the mite is spreading rapidly. "There is a very good friend of mine who normally keeps 400 hives. Because of the varroa mite that been reduced to just 20. Elsewhere, others I know are seeing the number of hives reduced by 80 per cent," he said.
The mite arrived in Britain four years ago, when it was first detected in Devon. It had been known on the Continent for years, but had been controlled. It is feared that this year will be Britain's worst for the pest. A spokesman for the Ashford Beekeeping Association said: "A lot of our members are being wiped out because of this and it is proving a problem to the commercial side as well.
"I think it is inevitable that prices will rise, if not this summer then next year. The problem is that not only honey will be affected - there is a knock-on effect which will see fruit and vegetables touched by it too ... there are fewer bees to pollinate orchards and vegetable gardens."Reuse content