England Launches 10-Year Plan to Keep Bees Buzzing

March 10, 2009 03:14 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff

New U.K. Strategy is a Network To Protect Bees

After a December 2008 EU measure to establish safe zones for bees, Britain has launched its own plan to monitor honeybees and revive the population. The 10-year initiative is to help amateur beekeepers protect bees from pesticides and fungi, Sky News reports. It asks that beekeepers register with BeeBase and report information on the status of bee health.

The BeeBase is operated by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and committed to promoting bee health. The database has been operating since 1991 but the new initiative encourages the 20,000 beekeepers in England and Wales to register and stay in close contact with the NBU. The database will play a key role in allocating the new funds alloted to honeybee protection.

In February 2009, U.K. Environment Secretary Hillary Benn announced that nearly $9 million would go towards bee protection over the next four years; $4 million will go to BeeBase in the next two years. According to Scottish newspaper The Herald, one-third of food consumed is dependent on honeybee pollination.

Professor Francis Ratnieks of Sussex University, Britain's only professor of apiculture, the study of bees, argues that more direct action is necessary to combat the threat to the bee population: "Better bee husbandry and greater inspection are part of the solution. But investment in research is needed to control Varroa mites—the UK's biggest honeybee killer,” he was quoted as saying by Sky News.

Background: EU Parliament Votes to Protect Bees

In December 2008, the EU voted on a measure to create areas where bees would be provided with diverse, pesticide-free habitats. It passed with a majority of members.

The zones are a simple and old-fashioned concept, said Raffaele Cirone, president of the Federation of Italian Beekeepers, to The Christian Science Monitor.

“They are just grassy lands left uncultivated and unfertilized, where flowers can grow freely, to the benefit of insects who feed on them,” Cirone said. “Leaving areas uncultivated is part of the farming and beekeeping tradition in Italy and many other European countries.”

The EU is hoping that, in addition to benefiting the insects, the protected zones will aid agriculture, as they call for “bee-friendly” production that alternates crop fields with uncultivated areas, as opposed to harmful modern farming practices.

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Reference: Colony Collapse Disorder

The mysterious decline of the world’s bees, called Colony Collapse Disorder, was first noticed in North America in 2004 and has also been spreading rapidly across Western Europe. In June 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture called it “the biggest general threat to our food supply.”

Colony Collapse Disorder causes bee populations to suddenly abandon their hives, including their queen and eggs, leading to mass deaths. The problem has led to an alarming decline in bee populations worldwide. Honey production has been drastically reduced and agriculture has suffered because more than 90 crops depend on bees for pollination.

A May 2008 survey found that 36.1 percent of America’s commercial beehives have been lost since 2007. “That’s an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the Apiary Inspectors of America, the group that commissioned the survey.

Research has implicated a variety of factors in the disorder’s cause, including pesticides, fungi, parasites, cell phones, genetically modified crops and viruses. Scientists believe that a major cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is the varroa mite, or Varroa destructor, which feeds on bees’ circulatory fluid and also weakens hives by activating and transmitting other diseases. The mites are currently kept under control with chemical pesticides, yet there is concern that they are developing resistance to the chemicals.

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