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Bees

Reasons Bees Matter

Their distinctive humming is the background noise of our summer while their honey sweetens our breakfast toast.

But with news that nearly one in three of the UK's 240,000 honeybee hives did not survive this year's winter and spring, there is something clearly wrong.

And it is not just honeybees either but the entire bee population that is under threat.

Why do we need bees?

Often referred to as 'flying fertiliser', bees are an essential part of our farmed and wild food and flora ecosystem, pollinating a third of what we eat, from apples and raspberries to barley and runner beans.

Why is their population collapsing?

Historically colony losses have fluctuated greatly in the UK, with severe weather increasing colony losses. However, the last 7 years have seen a trend of slowly rising colony losses. This culminated in an alarming 30% drop in bee numbers this Spring, according to the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA).

The BBKA said beekeepers would normally expect to lose between 5-10% of their bee population over the winter/spring period.

According to the National Bee Unit, a government-funded body set up to monitor the bee population in the UK, the majority of bees from colonies lost in the Spring contained DWV, a virus associated with Varroa infestations.

But they also blamed the wet summer of 2007 and the rain this spring that confined bees, who do not like the wet weather, to their hives and allowed disease to spread amongst the population.

What is Varroa and where did it come from?

Varroa is a virus that prays on honeybees and to which the bee has no natural defence.

It is present on all continents except Australia and was first found in the UK on 4th April 1992 in Devon. If left untreated the mite eventually kills the infested colony.

Nearly all colonies in the wild have died out and without beekeepers to care for them, honeybees could disappear in a few years.

What about the honey?

Without honeybees there is no honey. The Honey Association already reckons that English honey will run out by Christmas and that new supplies will not be available to buy until summer 2009.

Although domestic honey accounts for less than 20% of all honey consumed in the UK, international supplies have also been hit by the combination of poor weather and disease. The price of the average jar of honey is expected to rise with the shortage.

What is being done to help?

The National Bee Unit is working with beekeepers to monitor the population declines. But Bee organisations say that is not enough and call on the government to fund more research into bee health.

Aside from the spread of diseases like Varroa, campaigners blame the increase in large-scale farming which does not provide the hedgerows and other natural habitats bees thrive on to pollinate.

Article from Yahoo Posted by Miriam Kennet 14th August 2008

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