Honeybees are continually under threat of being wiped out from a range of diseases, which strange as this may seem they have no natural defence.
Since the winter of 2007, 30% of the population of the domestic honeybees have been wiped out just from the attack o f the varroa destructor mite.
The mites can only reproduce within a honeybee colony and then they kill the bees in the colony through direct attack or by spreading viruses throughout the hive.To most people the honeybee probably appears insignificant, this cannot be further from the truth. The honeybee plays a vital role within the planet’s eco-system, pollinating 70% of the food that we eat. Bees contribute over £165 million per year to agricultural output, and any loss of bees can have very negative consequences, including a decline in plant and animal life.
The honeybee also contributes nearly £200 million a year to the UK’s economy.
Despite their importance, the UK Government only spent £200,000 in 2007-08 on research into honeybees and how to protect them. However, thanks to some opposition politicians and more importantly some wildlife and environmental groups, the Labour Government has pledged around £2 million in funding for bee health and research over five years.
Without a full and proper understanding of how the bees are affected by pests and diseases we cannot safeguard them against attack. Here in Scotland, bee farmers run up to a quarter of the UK’s total commercial bee hives, but we only currently have 8 full-time bee inspectors, compared to 37 in England and 9 in Wales. Insufficient funding and support has meant that many of the hives in Scotland are becoming resistant to the treatments available to fight the mites.
In addition to the mite problem, in June this year inspectors discovered that a new disease called European Foul Brood was present in a large number of hives in Scotland. This disease is extremely detrimental to hives and could severely affect the £2.25 million honey industry.
Under a Scottish Government-funded plan, farmers can voluntarily feed their bees icing sugar that is laced with antibiotics that could help fight the disease. It wounds strange that you should feed icing sugar to them but if something so simple is effective, then it is worth it.
If nothing is done to help improve the health of Scotland’s honeybee population, the results could be dire. The loss of bees would have a very detrimental effect on many farming industries, especially the soft fruit sector. Did you know, bees are responsible for 90% of the pollination of apples, which have a market value of over £100 million in the British economy. The value of the bee pollination in the apple industry is a whopping £93.6 million, just for that one industry.
Bees also contribute significantly to the pollination of a number of other important areas of British produce, including oilseed rape, strawberries and raspberries.
There are a number of things that you can do to help the bees, such as planting bee-friendly plants in your garden, patio or like me even on your balcony or become a beekeeper yourself.
The loss of flower-rich habitats such as hedgerows, meadows and grassland, which bees depend on for their food, has increased over the last 70 years, causing yet more danger for the bees. Simply including plants such as sunflowers, lavender, roses and many others can help improve the health of our bees.
This week in Parliament David Taylor MP asked about an American report which stated another disease could be affecting our bees, you can see his questions and the Ministers answers here and John Penrose MP asks about the qualifications of those in the National Bee Unit here.
In order to truly understand what is happening to our bees and what we can and must then do to prevent it, we must urge our Governments to devote more funding to bee research to make sure that this vital creature is protected.
If you would like to learn more about this issue or get involved, please visit the Save Our Bees campaign website at www.saveourbees.org.uk additionally, you could sign the Scottish Liberal Democrats petition urging the UK and the Scottish Governments to devote more funding for bee research, please do so here.