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Defra steps up probe into honeybee wipeout

UK hives hit hard

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The Department for Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced it is giving "higher priority" to the investigation of bee fatalities following "early signs of significant colony losses across the country".

Defra has mobilised inspectors from the National Bee Unit (NBU) to probe this year's losses, which it admits have "no obvious explanation" such as "poor husbandry or varroa [mite]" - two factors fingered for losses in 2007.

Defra makes no direct reference to Colony Collapse Disorder - the unexplained disappearance of millions of honeybees which has hit hives across the world - but significantly notes that samples of dead bees collected last year "indicated high levels of the parasite Nosema spp coupled with virus (particularly chronic bee paralysis virus)".

In April 2007, US scientists identified the single-celled fungus Nosema ceranae in dead bees from hives in California, leading them to identify it as a possible major contributory factor in CCD. They did, however, describe the findings as "highly preliminary".

Defra, meanwhile, suggests other factors may too have contributed to the sorry state of UK bees. It explains: "The position this year may be different given that the wet weather experienced in summer 2007 meant that bees were confined to their hives for long periods and were therefore unable to forage for sufficient nectar and pollen to sustain them over winter.

"The poor spring we've experienced also extended the bees confinement. This additional stress is likely to have provided the opportunity for pathogen spread, virus levels to build up and Nosema, where it was present, to have a greater impact."

Defra is currently conducting a consultation (pdf) designed as a first step in formulating a long-term strategy to protect the UK's honeybees. In March, apiarists warned that without drastic action, British populations would be extinct within ten years. ®

Bootnote

The British Beekeepers Association has an e-petition designed to prompt the government into action, which you can sign here.

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