Parasite Could 'Wipe out Our Honey Bees within 10 Years' Beekeepers Campaign for Urgent Government Action and Research

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Byline: Madeleine Brindley Health Editor

HONEY bees could be wiped out in Britain within 10 years by a blood-sucking parasite that has already decimated the population.

Beekeepers have spoken of their anger that the UK Government has rejected their appeal to help save the bees.

The British Beekeeping Association wanted pounds 8m to fund a five-year research programme to find new treatments and drugs to combat a blood-sucking parasite that has already wiped out most of Britain's wild bees.

The UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs says there is no money for such work, and beekeepers now plan a campaign of demonstrations.

"We will be starting a letter campaign and announcing a lobby of Parliament after Easter," said Christine Gray of the BBA.

"People don't realise the impact it will have on their diet if we lose our bees. There will be very little fresh fruit and vegetables and they will have to live on a diet of burgers and rice."

UK Farming Minister Lord Rooker told the House of Lords last November that the pounds 200,000 a year that Defra spends on bee health, along with contingency funding for emergencies - and pounds 1.5m from Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government for the bee health unit centred on York - was sufficient support for Britain's 44,000 beekeepers.

But he added, "Bee health is at risk and, frankly, if nothing is done about it, the fact is the honey bee population could be wiped out in 10 years."

John Tayler, secretary of the Welsh Beekeepers' Association, said the minister's alarming forecast was "a distinct possibility".

He said most British beekeepers looked after their hives as a hobby to be enjoyed in their spare time.

"If the hobby does not work out or becomes too much trouble people will lose interest and give it up," said Mr Tayler, who lives at Myddfai, near Llandovery.

The hobby has already become much more demanding. The arrival of the blood-sucking varroa mite 15 years ago has virtually wiped out the feral bee and the mite has now developed resistance to the pyrethroid pesticide used to control it in managed colonies.

Wales regional bee inspector John Verran said integrated pest management in the form of a variety of techniques is now needed to deal with the pest.

"It means lots of little hits in different ways that we hope will be more sustainable in the long run," said Mr Verran.

"It's much more difficult for the beekeeper now.

"It was comfortable and easy, but now the beekeeper has to work a lot harder and needs to be much more educated."

Varroa is not the only problem. A new strain of the parasitic disease nosema apis, called nosema cerenae, has arrived in Britain.

"It's already in Wales and is probably going to cause quite a lot of colony losses," he said.

The small hive beetle from Africa has already spread to North America and Australia, and will eventually reach Europe. …