More than 14% of England’s honeybee colonies died over winter
More than 14% of England’s honeybee colonies died over the winter, the latest research from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) has found.
The BBKA’s annual survey of beekeepers across England’s found that winter losses were highest in the west country (18%) and lowest in the north of England (11.8).
The average reported losses for 2014/15 of 14.5% were higher than 2013/14 when only 9.6% of colonies perished, but much lower than the winter of 2012/13 when a third of hives died, and below the average losses since the survey began eight years ago of 19.3%.
The BBKA says winter losses remain at an “unacceptably high levels and are still in excess of what might be considered normal losses of 5-10%”. It blames poor and variable weather, bee diseases and parasites such as the varroa mite and starvation.
But Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, describes this year’s losses as very low and easily managed by beekeepers. “Honeybee colonies have the capacity to double in number every summer when they swarm, or the beekeepers splits the colony in two, so 14.5% winter losses are totally sustainable,” he says. “A good summer allowed the bees to forage and go into the winter well fed and strong.”
His own 100-strong apiary lost just two hives. “If you make sure your bees have food, a healthy queen and are treated for the varroa mite, you should be able to get winter losses down to single digits,” Ratnieks insists.
Bees are estimated to contribute £651m to the UK economy a year through their pollination services. Some 85% of the UK’s apple crop and 45% of the strawberry crop relies on wild bees and managed honeybees to grow.
More than half of British adults say they would do more to help bees to thrive, but almost two thirds don’t know what they can do, according to additional research by the BBKA. It has launched a bee-friendly guide featuring classic Winnie-the-Pooh characters to illustrate simple steps people can take such as planting a flowering tree in your garden or building bee habitats.
None of the 900 hobby beekeepers who took part in the annual losses survey cited neonicotinoid pesticides as a reason for colony deaths despite their use being temporarily banned on certain crops across Europe over fears they are linked to bees decline. The two year ban from the end of 2013 followed a recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority, which today launched a major new project to establish a framework that aims to assess the risk to honeybee colonies of various threats including agricultural chemicals, parasites and environmental changes.