Plague Killed 2 Billion Bees; Beekeepers outside Parliament Yesterday. They Marched on Downing Street to Demand Increased Research Funding

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Byline: David Derbyshire

TWO billion honey bees died last year after being struck by an infestation that is devastating hives across the country, according to a study.

The crisis is so severe that England could run out of homeproduced honey by Christmas.

Beekeepers say one in three colonies has been killed off since last autumn by the deadly varroa mite, at a cost to the economy of [pounds sterling]54million.

Yesterday, hundreds of beekeepers marched on Downing Street calling for more funding to investigate the disaster, which is also threatening fruit and vegetable growers.

Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association said: 'The increased funding we are asking for is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of pounds the Government has found for bank bail-outs.

'Bees are probably one of the most economically useful creatures on earth, pollinating a third of all we eat. They provide more than 50 per cent of pollination of wild plants on which birds and mammals depend. We must identify what is killing them, and that means research.' Numbers have been falling for years because of parasites and diseases. But experts fear worse devastation is to come if Britain is hit by Colony Collapse Disorder - a phenomenon which has wiped out colonies in America and has reached France and Germany.

Hives hit by the condition lose all their worker bees. Scientists have yet to explain its cause, although some blame disease, pollution, pesticides and even GM crops.

A survey by the BBKA found that 90,000 of the 274,000 hives in the UK - each containing around 20,000 bees - did not survive last winter and spring. It is feared another two billion could be wiped out this winter. UK hives have been hit by the varroa mite, which feeds on the blood of developing and adult bees, making them more vulnerable to disease. Recent wet summers have also been disastrous for population levels.

The BBKA wants the Government to increase its spending on research from [pounds sterling]200,000 a year to [pounds sterling]1.6million. It says the figure is less than 1 per cent of the [pounds sterling]825million that bees bring to farming by pollinating crops. …