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Honeybees' sticky situation

British bees are under serious threat. Picture Peter Gay
British bees are under serious threat. Picture Peter Gay

First it was the grain, then the grapes - and now bee-keepers are warning that there could be no honey in the shops by the New Year.

The bad summer weather and a sudden decline in bee numbers are being blamed for the annual honey harvest being more than halved. There are fears the British bee population could be extinct within five years.

Nick Mengham, of Mr Bumble's Bee Farm in Headcorn and Secretary of the Weald Bee Keeping Association said: "The weather for the last two years and new challenges to bee health are the cause."

There are several threats to bees that nobody fully understands, such as 'Colony Collapse Disorder' and pests such as the Verroa mite - which can wipe out a hive within three years.

"We're having real trouble just keeping our bees alive," he added.

Mr Mengham, who runs 150 commercial hives, estimates that this year's honey harvest would be a third of its normal yield - and this is on top of two previous bad years of honey production.

He argued: "Bees are worth more to society than what we get paid for the honey they produce. Without bees the crops wouldn't get pollinated so the variety of fruit and vegetables would decline and be a lot more expensive."

The bad weather has also affected Brian Palmer's colonies. He said: "The wet August means that for the first time in three or four years we've had to feed the bees to ensure they survive."

Chris Austin, of Flynn's Bee Farm on the Isle of Sheppey, said: "The Government's decision to halve the number of bee inspectors to save around £200,000 seems crazy when it puts a £120million-a year industry at risk."

The British Bee Keeping Asociation (BBKA) has called on the Government to invest £8million in research into the problems facing Britain's honeybee.

In a stark warning, BBKA chairman Tim Lovett said the country's bee population could be decimated to a fifth of the current level within five years.

He said: "Essentially there will be negligible stocks of bees, English honey will be like gold dust."

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