Friday, 24 April 2009

Bee plight taken seriously at last

Einstein said that if bees vanish from the planet, then mankind will follow them in three years time. At long last, and after much campaigning, the UK Government is doing something about the desperate decline of the UK bee population.

On 21 April, the UK government announced that £10m will be spent on research for pollinators - bees, butterflies and other insects - to see if the decline in UK populations can be halted.

The government is contributing £2m with the rest coming from the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.

"Bees pollinate crops worth potentially hundreds of millions of pounds to British agriculture." said Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers' Association.

"Take a meat pizza - without the bees, all you'd be left with is the bread base, as in many countries cows are fed on pollinated crops like alfafa."

And yet in recent years a series of diseases has affected bee populations in this country and elsewhere. In many cases we neither know the causes of these illnesses or the cures for them, but they are having a terrible effect on bee populations.

"We have moved bees across the world, changing their living conditions and spreading diseases," says Bob Maurer, a Reigate beekeeper, "and good bee management is now essential."

'Eleventh hour'

While beekeepers are glad that the government has recognized the scale of the problem, they say there has historically been a lack of funding for bee research. Vital staff have been lost, and their skills take time to replace.

Mr Lovett points out that the vast majority of hives are kept by amateur beekeepers, with just a few hives each; and if dying bee colonies become too widespread they will simply give up their hobby.

"This announcement has come at the 11th hour," says Mr Lovett. "We all just hope the research will come in time."

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