Bee Keeper Sudi Austin is warning more needs to be done to save Kent's bee population
A Sheppey businesswoman has warned another harsh winter could be “devastating” to Kent’s bee population.
Sudi Austin and her husband Chris own Flynn’s Bee Farm in Elmley Road, Brambledown, where they keep 50 hives and produce honey, beeswax and other natural goods.
Mrs Austin has heard of farms losing up to two thirds of their colonies or going down to all but one hive in recent months.
She said she was “lucky” to actually see a slight increase the number of her bees from last year and put it down to living on site and therefore being able to keep a closer eye on her business.
The longer cold weather and late blooming of flowers meant that bees had less time to get pollen to produce the honey they eat.
The 43-year-old closely monitored the weight of her honey stores over the winter and when she saw them running low, twice used emergency feeds of sugar water as a replacement.
She said: “It is more labour intensive because of the harsh winters that we have been having. It means that they have to be monitored a lot closer to make sure they have enough honey stores and if they don’t have enough, you have to be prepared to give them a substitute feed. It’s very expensive and impacts on the price of honey.”
Nationally the price of honey shot up from £2.40 per lb to £2.60 last year because less was produced but Mrs Austin has only had to increase hers by 10p.
She added: “Britain is a third world country when it comes to bee keeping because if you go abroad to the eastern block countries or Japan, they are using bees to support whole communities.”
She said that part of the problem is that species introduced to Kent in the past have resulted in a “mongrel” breed that is more reluctant to go out in cold weather.
The Austins are involved in an intervention project with the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders’ Association to improve national stocks of the dark European honey bee, which she said is more resilient to British climates.