Rise in beekeepers as Brits rush to save honey bees

May 14, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

Britain’s buzzing to a new generation of beekeepers as record numbers take up the hobby in a bid to save the threatened honey bee, officials have revealed.

Beekeeping clubs around the country have reported massive rises in membership of up to 50 per cent in the last year thanks to thousands of budding apiarists.

Experts say the boom has been sparked by the plight of the honey bee – which has seen billions killed by a mystery condition.

The decline began in America and since 2006 millions of colonies and billions of honeybees worldwide have died – with scientists still no closer to finding the cause.

Bee numbers had only just begun to regenerate following the Varroa Mite outbreak which left world colonies decimated.

The loss of the honey bees – which contribute £200 million a year to the British economy alone – is a major threat to crops and human food production.

Scientists have urged people to help save the species by taking up bee-keeping and figures show the calls has been answered by animal-loving Brits.

Beekeeping clubs have reported a huge rise in numbers and beehive makers say business is booming and are struggling to keep up with demand.

Christine Gray, of the British Beekeeper’s Association, said last year it attracted 5,000 new members – a rise of around 50 per cent.

She said: ”The level of interest in the last two years has been phenomenal. There has been a real boom in beekeeping.

”There has been so much talk about the threat to bees that people want to do their bit to help a species which has been around for millions of years.

”People really care about bees and when they realised they were in danger it has prompted a huge amount of interest in bee-keeping.

”By taking up the hobby we can help save the species and the environment. Bees are vital to food production, pollination, and keeps the countryside alive with colourful flowers.

”Beekeeping clubs around the country are reporting a big rise in membership and hive makers are all busier than ever.”

Experts fear the honeybee is in ”terminal decline” after it emerged more than a third of colonies in the USA have failed to survive the winter for the fourth year in a row.

The rise in beekeeping in Britain has seen bee-hive manufacturers flooded with business for hives, protective clothing, honey jars and bees themselves.

Officials at National Bee Supplies in Devon have increased staff numbers from two to ten in the last year and the firm’s business was up by 50 per cent.

Their customers include Kayleigh Jennings, aged seven, and her six-year-old sister Honey, who have recently taken up the hobby.

Bill Stevens, owner of the company, said: ”Interest has sky-rocketed over the past two years. The publicity about the loss of honey bees has created a desire for beekeeping, which is great for bees.

”No-one could have envisaged the increase in demand. There are obviously lots of people out there who have wanted to be beekeepers but thought it was difficult or you’d need a licence.

”We’ve got a full order book and we are working really hard to keep up with demand. Without doubt, with more people taking up beekeeping and this should mean we will have more bees.

”All the county beekeepers associations are being inundated with new beekeepers asking for help, advice and training.

”It used to be seen as an old man’s hobby and it was very popular during the war because if you kept bees you would get a bigger sugar ration.

”But it’s not regarded like that any more – it’s a lovely hobby but it’s also very, very important.”

The mysterious decimation of bee populations has been reported across the world including Europe, the United States and Japan.

To meet the demand for beekeeping there are a raft of new schemes including Bee Houses- smaller hives for use in smaller urban gardens – and ‘adopt a beehive’ projects.

But Christine added: ”People who want to take up beekeeping must be aware of the worked that goes with it.

”Anyone who has stood next to a bee-keeper when he opens a hive and sees 50,000 bees will  know what a shock it can be.

”’If people want to take it up we suggest they spend some time around a hive with a keeper or maybe started an apprenticeship.

”There are various taster days available which will help aspiring bee-keepers get a taste of how it feels to handle them.”

Earlier this week it emerged Britain’s dwindling hive populations are to be boosted by Queen bees sent from the Isle of Man – in envelopes.

A bee inspector from the island is to send healthy queens to the UK in ventilated packets to see if they can repopulate hives infected by disease.

Colonies on Man are healthy and thriving thanks to a ban on importing foreign bees since 1987, which has prevented the spread of disease.

The healthy queens will be sent to beekeepers in Birmingham and Stockport whose hives have been hit by viruses.

* The Varroa mite is the parasite with the most pronounced economic impact on the beekeeping industry and may be a contributing factor to colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees Apis cerana and Apis mellifera and causes a disease caused varroatosis.

It can only replicate in a honey bee colony and attaches itself to the body of the bee. It feeds off the bee and spreads a virus which leaves offspring with deformed wings.

A significant mite infestation will lead to the death of a honey bee colony, usually in the late autumn through early spring.

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