Friday, 26 June 2015

More than 14% of England's honeybee colonies died over winter

British Beekeepers Association says level of winter losses is unacceptably high as European Food Safety Authority launches investigation into bee threats
Alison Benjamin

Thursday 25 June 2015 16.33 BSTLast modified on Thursday 25 June 201516.39 BST

More than 14% of England’s honeybee colonies died over the winter, the latest research from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) has found.

The BBKA’s annual survey of beekeepers across England’s found that winter losses were highest in the west country (18%) and lowest in the north of England (11.8).

The average reported losses for 2014/15 of 14.5% were higher than 2013/14 when only 9.6% of colonies perished, but much lower than the winter of 2012/13 when a third of hives died, and below the average losses since the survey began eight years ago of 19.3%.

The BBKA says winter losses remain at an “unacceptably high levels and are still in excess of what might be considered normal losses of 5-10%”. It blames poor and variable weather, bee diseases and parasites such as the varroa mite and starvation.

But Francis Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, describes this year’s losses as very low and easily managed by beekeepers. “Honeybee colonies have the capacity to double in number every summer when they swarm, or the beekeepers splits the colony in two, so 14.5% winter losses are totally sustainable,” he says. “A good summer allowed the bees to forage and go into the winter well fed and strong.”

His own 100-strong apiary lost just two hives. “If you make sure your bees have food, a healthy queen and are treated for the varroa mite, you should be able to get winter losses down to single digits,” Ratnieks insists.

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