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£4.3m to be spent protecting bees

An extra £4.3 million will go to protecting bees and conducting research into the threats they face, the Government announced today.

Bee colonies in Britain have suffered significant losses in the last two years, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Bees play an important role in agriculture, with the value of commercial crops that benefit from bee pollination estimated at £100 million to £200 million a year. Honey is worth some £10 million to £30 million.

But bee populations face a growing number of threats including pests and diseases such as the varroa mite, while many colonies were hit by the bad weather in the past two summers.

Today Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said an extra £2.3 million would be spent over the next two years supporting the work of the National Bee Unit (NBU) to help English beekeepers cope with the problems facing their colonies.

The money, which is in addition to the £1.3 million the NBU receives each year, will help the unit identify all those who keep bees and provide expert advice to them on tackling diseases and looking after their colonies.

Mr Benn also announced an extra £400,000 a year over the next five years for research into bee health - tripling the amount currently spent each year on the area from its current level of £200,000.

Defra said the extra £2 million for research was part of a comprehensive bee health strategy which is currently being developed.

Mr Benn said: "Bees are vulnerable to a number of threats. Pests and diseases, when combined with poor summers can leave colonies unable to survive the winter.

"We must get to grips with this, to see just how serious a problem it is, what the impacts on pollination are, and what we can do in response."

Speaking at the Royal Society of Chemistry today, Mr Benn also said science would help steer humans through the "perfect storm" of climate change, environmental degradation and water and oil scarcity which threatened our ability to feed the world population while protecting the environment.