Warning over honeybee decline

Michael McCarthy,Environment Editor
Tuesday 14 July 2009 00:00 BST

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MPs have accused the Government of showing little interest in the problem of Britain's disappearing honeybees.

Bees are estimated to be worth £200m a year to the economy for their vital role in pollinating many of the crops grown in the UK.

But despite the fact that bee colonies are rapidly vanishing, ministers are giving little priority to the problem, warned members of the all-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

Research spending on bee health should be ring-fenced, the MPs said, and not, as now, be part of more general research on pollinating insects. Furthermore, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should take steps to ensure more beekeepers register with it, thereby subjecting themselves to inspection. At present registration is voluntary.

"Honeybees are dying and colonies are being lost at an alarming rate," said Edward Leigh, the Tory chairman of the committee. "This is very worrying, and not just because the pollination of crops by honeybees is worth an estimated £200m each year to the British economy. So it is difficult to understand why Defra has taken so little interest in the problem up to now.

"Additional money for research into honeybee health has been announced, but the focus will include all pollinating insects," Mr Leigh added. "We need to know what proportion of the funding is to be ring-fenced specifically for research into the causes of the decline in honeybee numbers."

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