Annual colony loss figures have doubled in the past four years, from just over 6% in 2003 to nearly 12% in 2007. With 10% of colonies inspected so far this year, losses are running at over 21%, approaching the decline in the US and parts of continental Europe last year.
Tim Lovett, chair of the beekeepers' association, said: "The rate of loss is important - if it climbs to 25%-30% then we are in serious trouble; if it were to go up to 60%, then we will be out of beekeeping in just a few years."
The food and farming minister, Lord Rooker, has said that without emergency measures the honey bee is likely to disappear from Britain, threatening the £165m-a-year fruit industry.
The UK has about 240,000 colonies, run by 44,000 mostly amateur keepers. Yesterday the government said the investigation of bee colony losses would get higher priority, and keepers with significant losses should contact a local inspector.
The National Bee Unit said the poor spring had extended the bees' confinement and the stress had probably let pathogens spread.
Source: John Vidal
Friday May 9 2008