Sunday, 2 November 2008

Bees march on Parliament

Next Wednesday, on November 5, a swarm of beekeepers is marching on the Houses of Parliament, puffing their apiarist smokers and calling for MPs to save the British honeybee. Their 130,000-name petition is nothing short of a cry for survival in the face of serious bee-deaths and dire native honey shortages. The situation is so bad that there will be no English honey by Christmas, according to the Honey Association.

The harvest has been dreadful. While some beekeepers had a decent crop, the majority suffered badly. Bees die every winter but the losses this year were up 25 per cent or more, rather than a more standard 5-10 per cent. Worst of all, the wet spring and summer meant that the bees stayed in their hives. No flights, no nectar, no honey. “Last year I did two farmers' markets a month, and craft fairs and county shows. I did a Christmas fair at Ripon Cathedral with huge amounts of honey,” says Rusty Wise, who has been keeping bees for 20 years. “This year I've had 26 jars. The greatest problem is the weather, but this goes farther.”

What is happening to the bees? This is the question asked by the march's organisers, the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA). Its petition will plead with MPs to find £8 million for research. Beekeepers need help. British honey is still a small-scale industry, with just a tenth of it sold in supermarkets. Much is still found in village stores and farmers' markets.

This is more than a question of what we spread on our toast. Bees are worth an estimated £165 million to agriculture through pollinating the plants that provide a third of the food we eat, including such common crops as orchard fruits, carrots, broccoli and onions.

For gardeners, they pollinate our flowers and vegetable plots and ensure our supply of seed for next year. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. Why are not the RHS involved in this immediate and crucial crisis? Why are they aways involved in an abstract, dreamland that most of can't comprehend?

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