Sunday, 1 October 2017

From north Wales to Norfolk, distraught beekeepers ask: who’s stealing our hives?

More than 100,000 bees have been targeted by rustlers in the past month alone – and keepers fear the culprits are from their own ranks

Saturday 23 September 2017 13.23 BSTLast modified on Saturday 23 September 2017 22.00 BST

There was a lump in Katie Hayward’s throat as she spoke about the emotional impact of the thefts that have cast a shadow over Britain’s beekeepers. “The heartbreaking thing is that it’s a very close community. The fact that one beekeeper does this to another is the hardest thing of all,” she says.

Two years have now passed since Hayward’s farm in north Wales was raided, leading to the loss of tens of thousands of bees. But the rustlers have continued to be active. Most recently they have targeted the property of one of her Anglesey neighbours, where around 40,000 bees were taken last month.

The heists have continued in other parts of the country, too. Earlier this month police in Norfolk were called after five hives thought to contain around 60,000 bees and £600 worth of honey were taken. Other known raids this year in Britain have included one in Doncaster in April. Suspicions among beekeepers that the culprits come from their own ranks were underlined by the fact that a bee smoker was left at the scene by someone who presumably knew that it could be used to calm the insects before taking them.

The problem is not restricted to the UK, either. The thefts are of an entirely different magnitude in California, where billions of bees are used to pollinate almond crops. But at least in the Golden State there has been some progress by investigators, who this summer arrested a man accused of stealing almost $1m worth of hives.

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