British beekeepers seek help to save honeybees

By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

LONDON — Beekeepers swarmed Parliament and the prime minister’s office on Wednesday, demanding more funds for research after the number of Britain’s honey bees dropped by nearly a third in the past year.

The British bee losses have not been as dramatic as those in the United States, but beekeepers say it is getting worse.

In 2006, U.S. beekeepers began reporting losing 30 percent to 90 percent of their hives. Scientists have been unable to determine the cause of the problem, known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Possible explanations include pesticides, a new parasite or pathogen, or a combination of immune-suppressing stresses.


Several hundred beekeepers, some wearing the protective suits of their trade, marched in London from the Houses of Parliament to deliver a 140,000-signature petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 10 Downing St. office.

British scientists are uncertain whether the country’s hives have suffered Colony Collapse Disorder. But the British Beekeepers’ Association says almost a third of honey bee colonies, containing almost 2 billion bees, have been lost over the past year, due in part to the varroa mite parasite and an exceptionally wet summer.

"Over the last five or 10 years the number of bees dying every winter has increased," said Ivor Davies, a past president of the association. "There is something going on with our bees that we do not understand." Farmers have warned that the disappearance of bees could devastate food crops and the environment because about three-quarters of flowering plants rely on birds, bees and other pollinators to help them reproduce.

"Honey bees are an underpinning component of the British countryside - whether it’s heather moorland, a hedgerow, an orchard or a field of beans," said Paul Temple, vice president of the National Farmers’ Union.

The government spends 1.5 million pounds ($2.4 million) on beekeeping each year, but only 200,000 pounds ($320,000) of it goes to research. The beekeepers’ association is calling for research funding to rise to 1.6 million pounds ($2.6 million) a year.

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