Beekeepers celebrate research funding

SUFFOLK'S beekeepers have welcomed a multimillion aid package to protect declining bee populations and fund research into the threats they face.

Craig Robinson

SUFFOLK'S beekeepers have welcomed a multimillion aid package to protect declining bee populations and fund research into the threats they face.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday announced it would be investing an extra �4.3million in a bid to halt the fall in bees.

Bee populations face a growing number of threats including pests and diseases such as the varroa mite, while many colonies have been hit by the bad weather in the past two summers.

It is feared if answers are not found soon problems with pollination will directly impact on the country's food production.

In November beekeepers from across East Anglia - which lost a third of its bees last winter - marched on Westminster to demand more funding for research into bee health.

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Last night Roy Ramsey, a member of the Suffolk Beekeepers Association, welcomed the Government's announcement.

“Its obviously good news and I guess our trip to Westminster must have struck a chord,” he said. “However, even I have to admit that given the current economic situation the country is facing the timing is a bit of a surprise.

“Having said that I'm glad it's happened. I've kept bees for more than 50 years and over the last two or three there have been things happening that I just can't understand.

“The last 12 months have been the worst I've experienced and my own honey crop is down by two thirds.

“We desperately need more research into the varroa mite and also into the effects radio waves and mobile phone masts have on bee orientation. I know when I wear my digital hearing aid the bees won't leave me alone, similarly if my mobile phone rings when I'm working with the bees they will swarm around it. There is so much research that can be done and hopefully we will now be able to take that forward.”

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said an extra �2.3m would be spent over the next two years supporting the work of the National Bee Unit (NBU) to help English beekeepers cope with the problems facing their colonies.

The money, which is in addition to the �1.3m the NBU receives each year, will help the unit identify all those who keep bees and provide expert advice to them on tackling diseases and looking after their colonies.

Mr Benn also announced an extra �400,000 a year over the next five years for research into bee health - tripling the amount currently spent each year on the area from its current level of �200,000.

“Bees are vulnerable to a number of threats,” he said. “Pests and diseases, when combined with poor summers can leave colonies unable to survive the winter.

“We must get to grips with this, to see just how serious a problem it is, what the impacts on pollination are, and what we can do in response.”