Monday, 5 January 2009

Save the Honey Bee: Government help needed

The British honeybee is dying. A third of all hives in this country failed to survive last winter. Two billion bees have been lost from British colonies in the last year. There is no British honey from the 2008 crop left, since only around 2,000 tonnes was produced last year compared to a typical figure of 5,000 tonnes.

Why is this? Bad weather stops bees foraging. Secondly, there has been a steady reduction in clover and meadowland, with these traditional fields given over to arable production. And thirdly, there's the Varroa mite virus which now infests over 95% of British hives.

If nothing is done, it is estimated that UK honey bees will be wiped out within ten years.

In my shop I now have only one local supplier of honey, from Staindrop. I can sell every jar I get from him. I used to have five local suppliers. The other four have given up the struggle. Customers love local honey. It has a flavour unique to the area in which it is produced. It is unadulterated and as pure as can be. Unlike some of the massive industries in countries like China and Mexico, British honey is not pasteurised, heat-treated or fortified with extra sugar. British honey incurs minimal environmental cost and is a classic "local food".

But the decline of the honeybee affects much more than just the production of honey. About one third of all home grown food relies of the honeybee for pollination, in particular apples, pears, blackberries, raspberries, broccoli, carrots and onions. More than 50% of wild plants on which birds and mammals depend is pollinated by the honeybee.

On top of this, there's a worldwide honey shortage caused by changes in weather patterns and an increase in the number of parasites and diseases ravaging bee populations.

Research is urgently needed to combat these problems which are devastating the industry. The Government currently contributes £200,000 per annum to the beekeeping industry. It is estimated that £8million will be needed over the next five years to find a solution to these problems. The British Beeheepers Association has recently lobbied Parliament in a bid to highlight the plight of the industry.

You can help by downloading and completing a petition at . And please write to your local MP to ask for his support.

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