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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given "little priority" to protecting the UK's honeybees, and wants the department to up its game in the face of a dramatic population decline.

The PAC estimates the value of the pollinating insects as £200m a year to the agricultural economy. It identifies multiple menaces to the honeybee, including the Varroa mite, "cold, wet weather" and a possible "new threat of Colony Collapse Disorder".*

The PAC reports: "Despite their importance to the agricultural economy the Department has given little priority to bee health. In 2007–08, research expenditure in this field was just £200,000.

"In 2009, the Department announced that this sum is to be supplemented by an extra £2.5m over five years, but this additional work to support the Department’s new Bee Health Strategy will be diluted by including research into other pollinator insects as well as honeybees."

It adds: "Regular inspections of colonies enable the Department to monitor the health of colonies and the incidence of disease and parasites. Nearly 80% of cases of notifiable disease in England are identified through such inspections.

"The effectiveness of these inspections is hampered because around half of the estimated 37,000 active beekeepers in England have not joined the Department’s voluntary register, BeeBase."

In summary, the PAC insists that cash allocated to honeybee research must be ring-fenced. It also suggests that while "maintaining a voluntary approach to registration and inspection, the department should develop a strategy to increase significantly the number of registered beekeepers".

In March, Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government announced their 10-year Healthy Bees plan formulated to "sustain honeybee populations by supporting beekeepers to ensure effective biosecurity measures are adopted to minimise risk from pests and disease".

Its first priority was to "attempt to identify and make contact with perhaps as many as 20,000 amateur beekeepers" to encourage them to sign up to BeeBase and inform the National Bee Unit of any health problems with their honeybees.

The initiative followed government financial intervention back in January, when it injected an extra £4.3m "to safeguard and undertake more research into the health of bees".

The PAC's report is here (pdf). ®

Bootnote

*The PAC does, however, state: "There is no evidence that the increased losses in the United Kingdom are due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which may involve a combination of factors including habitat, food supply and disease."

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