Consultation on protecting & improving health of bees

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.

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5 Responses to Consultation on protecting & improving health of bees

  1. Anne Cox says:

    This is a very sad post. Beekeepers are suffering the same fate as minority groups in any free market economy. He who shouts loudest gets the resources.
    Perhaps the beekeepers could approach the academic world to see if scientists can oblige with sponsored projects.

  2. matt says:

    I think the main concern for the staff paid to go around the UK and monitor hives for disease is the severe lack of staff and hence time, to carry out their very pressing duties.

    There is a crisis in the well publicised Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), as the Americans like to call these things. As bees are crucial to our own well being via pollination of food crops I find it incredible that the government is being so pathetic with funding asked for by BBKA. It’s not like they are asking for much.

    The trouble is, there is a general funding and staffing crisis right through Defra because of government cut backs.

  3. earthpal says:

    I’m not pretending to know a great deal about the honey bee or bee-keeping but it seems to me that the value and eco-importance of the honey bee is widely (and wildly) underestimated.

    Bees work very hard at their pollinating duties and the government must surely realise it must find a substantial amount of money to have this problem investigated. We already have a food crisis!

  4. Brian Clark says:

    Just wanted to reply to Anne Cox in regard to her comment that beekeepers should approach academic world for help. Here at Washington State University, that’s exactly what happened. Keepers in our regions have lost 50% of their hives in recent years. Washington State University scientists and Pacific Northwest beekeepers are joining forces to find out what is causing the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder that has wiped out thousands of hives throughout the region over the past several years. The full story is here: http://cahnrsnews.wsu.edu/reportertools/news/2008/bee-research-2008-04.html

  5. matt says:

    Brian, many thanks for contributing this information. With 8 out of 10 commercial crops threatened by CCD in Washington State I’m surprised the government isn’t pouring money into this research.

    For our readers, I found the following interesting from Brian’s linked announcement of research into CCD;

    Olson said the “smoking gun” for CCD appears to be Nosema ceranae, a microsporidium that attacks the bee’s ability to process food. WSU entomology professor Walter (Steve) Sheppard agrees that Nosema is a likely culprit. The men are working on a large-scale colony health survey that involves testing bees every 30 days for several major pests and pathogens. They started in January.

    “We checked 24 hives in January, and it was stunning what we saw,” Olson said, describing a Nosema build-up in a majority of the bees sampled. He treated the hive with a mega-dose of the antibiotic fumagillin. “That should have caused the Nosema to either disappear or at least go down, but the levels went up,” he said.

    Richard Zack, chair of the WSU department of entomology, said Colony Collapse Disorder is just the latest in a number of factors that have threatened the bee-keeping industry for many years.

    “This is a long-term problem that started a number of years ago,” he said. “The people who can provide commercial pollinating services are disappearing, and if we solve this specific problem, another one will come along. The goal of this research is to build a program that can help the industry become sustainable again no matter what happens in terms of disease, nutrition and a thousand other factors.”

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