Why Are So Many Bee Colonies Dying Off In Europe?

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We know that honeybee die offs have been a problem in America, but what about their European cousins? A new report takes the first comprehensive look at just what is happening to the bee colonies in Europe — and the news is very bad indeed.

A report from the European Union’s Reference Laboratory put together an epidemiological survey of honeybee colony mortality across 17 member states, looking at over 30,000 colonies to measure just how many of those colonies were being wiped out.

Some colony death is, of course, anticipated every year. Just what is an acceptable rate of winter bee die-off is up for debate, and different countries have different standards. In Europe, 10% is regarded as acceptable; in America, 15%.

But in Europe, up to one-third of all colonies have been dying off in a single winter, and nobody is arguing that’s anything but alarming. Countries including Belgium, the U.K., and Sweden all experienced this elevated rate of die-offs among honeybee colonies in the winter of 2013.

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Romania keeps tradition of bee medicine alive

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Bee venom to combat multiple sclerosis, pollen for indigestion, honey to heal wounds — the humble bee has been a key source of alternative medicines since ancient times, and Romania is working to keep the tradition of “apitherapy” alive.

The tradition goes back to ancient Greece when Hippocrates applied honey to treat wounds, and the Romans saw pollen as “life-giving”.

In the past of India, China and Egypt, a resinous substance collected by bees from the buds of certain trees, known as “propolis”, was popular as an antiseptic.

“The hive is the oldest and healthiest natural pharmacy,” said Cristina Mateescu, director general of the Institute for Apicultural Research and Development in Bucharest.

Today in the wilderness of Romania’s Carpathian mountains, honey bee products are still a familiar part of traditional medicine.

“In my village, my great-grandmother was a healer and used products from beehives. She inspired me,” Dr Mariana Stan told AFP.

Having spent years as a conventional doctor, Stan now practises in Bucharest as a “apitherapist” — using bee products “which give slower but longer lasting and more profound results”.

In a country still infused with folk culture, several families continue to use propolis against sore throats, as well as honey and pollen to boost the immune system.

Apitherapy pioneer

Every town in Romania has its “plafar” — natural pharmacies selling products made from plants, honey, beeswax and propolis.

“Romania is a pioneer of apitherapy, which it recognised very early as a component of scientific medicine,” said US professor Theodor Charbuliez, head of the Apimondia Commission of Apitherapy, a group that brings together thousands of practitioners from around the world.

Modules on apitherapy have started to work their way into more conventional medical classes and extracts from propolis developed by the Apicultural institute into recognised medicines.

Founded in 1974, the institute employs 105 people who look after local bee colonies and sell around 30 approved products.

A new range even seeks to treat cats and dogs with bee-related products.

Bucharest also boasts an Apitherapy medical centre, the world’s first, which opened in 1984.

Scepticism remains among the regular medical community in the absence of scientific studies about the effects of bee venom, but many users are full of praise and welcome the cheap costs and environmentally friendly approach.

Doina Postolachi comes twice a week to the medical centre to receive injections of bee venom, or “apitoxin”.

The 34-year-old poet says the injections have allowed her to “rediscover hope” in her fight against multiple sclerosis.

“For a year, I could no longer walk or get into my bath. My feet were stuck to the ground. But today, the venom treatment has given me back strength in my legs. I walk, I can take baths,” she said.

She said she has never wanted any regular pharmaceutical treatments “which come with numerous side effects”.

Bees do wonders

There has been mounting interest across the world in apitherapy.

In 2013, Washington University in the US city of St Louis published a study on the efficacy of milittine, a toxin contained in bee venom, in countering the AIDS virus.

In France, thousands of patients have benefited from bandages treated with honey at the abdominal surgery department of Limoges hospital.

Bee products are also infiltrating the cosmetics industry, used in skin-toning and anti-wrinkle creams.

Part of the appeal rests with the natural and organic image of bee products.

“In Romania, we have the chance to maintain an unspoiled nature,” said Cornelia Dostetan, a member of the National Apitherapy Society.

Under Communism, poverty meant that pesticides were rarely used and the country has never shifted to large-scale monoculture forms of agriculture. The result is that Romania retains a great diversity of flora, said Dostetan.

Certified organic, the Romanian brand Apiland, a specialist in raw pollen, has launched its products in France and Italy.

According to the last agricultural census in 2010, Romania counted 42,000 beekeepers and more than 1.3 million colonies of bees.

Postolachi says she looks on the bees with “immense gratitude”.

“These miniscule beings do wonders.”

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The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reveals that bees were his childhood confidants

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed he had some very special confidants during his childhood – honey bees.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, the former Bishop of Durham, made the revelation to presenter Martha Kearney as part of her new BBC series The Wonder of Bees.

He said that his grandmother sparked his interest in beekeeping as a child and encouraged him to ‘tell the bees the news’.

Mr Welby said: “She took me down and I’d say how school had been and what I was doing.

“And then as I grew up and, ‘I got a boat’ and ‘there’s this pretty girl here’ and that sort of stuff.”

Mr Welby goes on to talk about bees in a religious context, referencing the legend that says they were the only creature to escape untainted from the Garden of Eden and that hives are used in religious art to symbolise harmonious monastery life.

His appearance in the series is due to air on BBC Four on April 21.

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Shaun is charged with task of encouraging wild flowers

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At the March meeting of the Scottish Wildlife Trust in Duns, Shaun Hackett from the Northumberland National Park enlightened and entertained an audience of about 45 with his enthusiasm and knowledge of wild flower meadows and bumble bees.

 

His position in the Park is ‘Seeding Change Officer’, charged with the task of encouraging wild flowers to grow in grass meadows, along road verges, at schools, caravan sites and in people’s gardens, for the benefit of wildlife in general and pollinating insects in particular.

Some 21 fields covering 60 hectares have been inoculated with wild flower seeds in the past three and a half years and over 9,000 wild flower plants raised in pots and planted out. It has been found that to get the process underway it is best to scatter freshly collected seeds of Yellow Rattle, Rhinanthus minor, over an established grass meadow in August and September. The Yellow Rattle is an annual or biennial plant with yellow flowers, when the seeds are ripe they rattle around inside the seed capsules on windy days, hence the common name Yellow Rattle. This plant is a partial parasite, its roots latch onto the roots of grass drawing nourishment from them, restricting their vigour and so letting wildflowers compete with the established grasses

Locally collected wild flower seeds are then scattered over the selected meadows and in two to three years a rich and diverse flower meadow is established. Some 50 B&B establishments have entered a scheme whereby they plant wild flowers in their gardens to encourage pollinating bumble bees; if they can get six different species of bumble bee in their gardens on the day of an inspection they get a Bumble Bee Award and special publicity as a wildlife friendly establishment.

Caravan sites are given advice on how to encourage wild flowers and at one site changing the time that the grass was cut resulted in 1,000 flowering spikes of Orchids appearing in the first year! The time of cutting roadside grass verges is critical for wildlife and wild flowers and is some places netting has been attached to fences to stop cows stretching through the fence to eat the wild flower along road verges. Schools are encouraged to visit and use the flower meadows, more than 125 school visits have been made with the result that 4,250 children and teachers are learning more about species rich hay meadows and the wildlife associated with them.

Shaun has been visiting areas of Europe where natural flowers meadows are the norm. Some farmers there could not grasp the idea that our farmers grew grass in pure, clean swards, their idea was that meadows with a mixture of grass and wild flowers provided much richer and healthier grazing and their hay was much superior in nutrients and the resulting milk and meat had a better flavour.

Bumble bees, moths and butterflies will feature in next week’s article.Adopt-A-Hive

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