Defra has launched a consultation which aims to engage with all those with an interest in the sustainability of honey bees. The draft strategy is the result of a series of informal discussions and consultations with beekeeping associations and other stakeholders. Defra now want to hear from a wider range of people, particularly individual beekeepers to make sure that the strategy represents accurately their priorities.
The British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) is however concerned that despite its advice to DEFRA there are substantial short comings and omissions in the strategy.
As a stakeholder which has made a major input into its development over recent months, the BBKA has urged that more research is needed to understand the problems and to find solutions to the diseases which threaten to wipe out our honey bees. Once again, many beekeepers throughout the country are reporting higher than usual winter losses.
Most importantly the BBKA has no confidence in government’s commitment to funding additional work and services needed to keep our honey bees healthy.
Pollination, largely by honey bees, contributes £165 million a year to the agricultural economy. Without pollination, many food crops will decline to an uneconomic level which will have a devastating effect on everyone’s diet. Output of important industrial products such as oil seed rape will also be affected.
The BBKA has proposed a programme of research to Government with a budget of just £8 million over five years. At the moment they say they do not have enough staff to monitor the disease situation.
The threats to the honey bee include American Foulbrood and European Foulbrood, which are both subject to statutory controls, and varroa mites and associated viruses. Colony losses due to varroa infestation have increased since 2001 because the mites have developed resistance to available treatments and there are few approved alternatives.
Climate change is bringing additional potential threats, including small hive beetle, parasitic brood mites and species such as the Asian hornet, which prey on colonies.