British apiarists are demanding the government stump £8m for a research project aimed at saving the nation's honeybees from extinction - something they say will happen within 10 years if cash is not found to investigate "new treatments and drugs" for ailing populations.
Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeeping Association, explained: "Beekeeping is still reeling from the varroa mite, which carries a number of viruses and which devastated thousands of hives across the country when it reached Britain 10 years ago. Now there is a real danger that colony collapse disease - which has wiped out 80 per cent of bees in parts of the US - will appear in this country. Unless we develop effective protection, there could then be massive losses of bees across the country."
Colony collapse disease, aka Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has manifested itself Stateside as colonies' older bees died, "leaving behind the queen and young workers not yet ready to forage for pollen and nectar and insufficient in number to maintain the colony".
The cause is unknown, and various theories point to harmful pesticides, increased solar radiation, falling queen fertility, unauthorised bee treatments, mobile phone mast radiation or the the single-celled fungus Nosema ceranae.
Whatever the cause, the implications of CCD are serious. Honeybees "pollinate ingredients in about a third of the food consumed in the US", prompting ice cream manufacturer Häagen-Dazs to cough up a $250,000 research grant to university researchers in California and Pennsylvania to probe the problem.
British ministers, however, have insisted they have no cash to fund a British bee-saving programme. According to the Guardian, there are roughly 250,000 honeybee hives in the UK and "a recent estimate by the Department for Farming, Environment and Rural Affairs revealed that bees contribute £165m a year to the economy through their pollination of fruit trees, field beans, and other crops".
Although the farming minister, Lord Rooker, admitted to the House of Lords that without action "the honeybee population could be wiped out in 10 years", Lovett said the minister had written to the British Beekeeping Association "saying there was no money available for a research programme".
Lovett said: "The pollinating of farmers' crops carried out by our bees is provided free of charge. Over five years that work raises £800m for the nation. We are asking for an £8m research programme to save our bees to run for five years. That is one per cent of the money our bees generate."
The British Beekeeping Association now plans to lobby MPs, start a letter-writing campaign, and take its concerns directly to the House of Commons with a protest meeting. ®