Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Britain Suffers Huge Honeybee Loss Over Past Winter

The north-east of England has recorded a honeybee loss rate of 17.1%. Photograph courtesy: Saul Loeb/AFP via guardian

Winged pollinators, most especially bees, are still under attack on a myriad of fronts; and, are suffering staggering decreases in their numbers. The UK, in particular, has suffered a tremendous loss to their honeybee population this winter; and, are trying desperately to bolster the declining honeybee situation.

We, in Canada and the USA, are suffering the same sorts of declines - as are countries all over the world - but, the UK seems to take this crisis much more seriously than other countries. They appear to realize that if we lose our winged pollinators, eventually our entire food chain will collapse.

In 2008, the bee was named "The World's Most Invaluable Species" by Earthwatch during their annual event which is eagerly attended by scientists and non-scientists alike. With all our neighbours across the pond do for bees, it seems a shame that they should have suffered such a loss this winter.

Honeybee populations declined by 13.6% over the winter according to a survey of beekeepers across England. Losses were most severe in the north-east where the survey recorded a loss rate of 17.1%.

Experts worry that the declines will affect plant productivity. There are also concerns that the declines, along with drought conditions in some areas, will mean less English honey this year.

Martin Smith, president of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), which carried out the survey, said: "If this was measured against similar losses in livestock it would be seen as disastrous and there would be great concern on the knock-on impact of food prices."

Beekeepers are puzzled by the decline because the cold winter and early spring should have favoured bees. They stay "clustered" tightly in their hives when it is cold and dry, saving energy for spring foraging when the temperature rises about 12C.

However, there is good news that the rate of colony loss has slowed. Four years ago, one in three hives was wiped out.

Beekeepers suspect that poor nutrition is a likely cause of weakness in adult bees that makes them succumb to diseases spread by a parasitic mite.

"The varroa mite is the number one reason why people lose bees, so the government needs to increase research to cure diseases caused by varroa," said Smith. "But a colony that has a good source of pollen and nectar will go into winter stronger and better able to fend off disease."

The association is calling on everyone who has a garden, however small, to plant bee-friendly plants this summer. "It is really important that there are flowering nectar-rich plants around in August, September and October to provide the nutrition that's needed so the bees can top up their stores of honey in the hive to see them through winter," said Smith.

A campaign being launched next week to save all bees, spearheaded by Sam Roddick and Neal's Yard Remedies, pins the blame for the decline on pesticide. It will start a petition to hand to Downing Street in October to ban the use of a class of pesticides that has been implicated in bee deaths across the world.

Roddick said: "These neonicotinoid pesticides penetrate the plant and indiscriminately attack the nervous system of insects that feed off them, disorientating bees, impairing their foraging ability and weakening their immune system, causing bee Aids. On current evidence, Italy, Germany and Slovenia have banned some varieties. In the UK, it's up to the people to show the government that if there is any doubt that they are contributing to bee deaths, we need to ban them."

A spokesman for the government's National Bee Unit said: "The UK has a robust system for assessing risks from pesticides and all the evidence shows neonicotinoids do not pose an unacceptable risk when products are used correctly, but we will not hesitate to act if presented with any new evidence. "

He added: "Although we're pleased the BBKA's seen fewer overwintering losses, bees continue to be affected by pests, diseases, and the weather. Amid a range of initiatives, we're training beekeepers, researching varroa mite controls, and improving the availability of medicines."

On a personal level, I have divided my reasonably-sized balcony into edible and non-edible portions. I grow some edibles for my consumption and try to lay in few flowering veg such as tomatoes for the bees' sake. The other portion is my non-edible, bee-friendly garden which is a riot of winged pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs. I put a small nest out for mason bees planted a dwarf cherry tree along with several medium-sized shrubs; then sat back and watched.

My favourite chair faces the balcony which is where I spend most evenings sitting watching the wildlife. Now, as anyone who knows me realizes, I live on the 4th floor which may make you wonder "what wildlife?"

I have found, to my utter delight, that my "naturalized" balcony attracts not only the winged pollinators I was after; but, quite an array of bird life. Birds have always fascinated me; and, I can watch them for hours. Unbelievably, I even had a woodpecker visit my balcony the other day.

Bee friendly to our winged pollinators!

Via guardian

1 comment:

Patty said...

this is very upsetting.