Health of England's honey bees under threat

LONDON (Reuters) - England’s honey bee colonies are dying at an alarming rate due to disease and a lack of coordinated response by health authorities, a parliamentary report concluded on Tuesday.

England and Wales have around 250,000 colonies of honey bees, which contribute around 200 million pounds to the economy since they are solely responsible for pollinating nearly 40 commercial crops.

Despite their importance, the government’s department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) has given little priority to bee health and failed to get beekeepers to report on colony health, the report said.

“Success in tackling disease incidence in honey bees and livestock will require the department to work more collaboratively with farmers, beekeepers and leading academic researchers in these areas,” the report by parliament’s Committee of Public Accounts said.

Inspects found that between 7 and 8 percent of colonies had died, with the percentage increasing over the past few years.

As well as changes to habitat and food supply, the bees were being adversely affected by cold and weather, with the threat that up to 30 percent of colonies could be lost over the winter.

In order to get on top of the problem, the report recommended that Defra intensify its testing for disease and work more closely with beekeepers.

Only half of active beekeepers are registered with Defra and subject to the department’s inspection regime. Registration is voluntary, unlike in other countries.

“In maintaining a voluntary approach to registration and inspection, the department should develop a strategy to increase significantly the number of registered beekeepers,” it said.

“This would enable it to enhance its data on bee disease incidence and better target advice on good husbandry and its research programme.”

Reporting by Phakamisa Ndzamela