The British honeybee is in decline, with catastrophic losses this year according to a survey of UK beekeepers. Close on one in three hives failed to make it through this winter and spring, that’s about 8,000 colonies, leaving us with a potential crisis on our hands.
The obvious connection is less bees, less honey and predictions are we will run out of British honey this year. However, British honey only accounts for about 10% of the honey we consume in the UK.

More importantly, honeybees are one of the insects that pollinate the fruit and vegetables we eat. In fact, one third of our food, including fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and forage for our livestock rely on pollination. Defra estimate that bees contribute £165m to our economy through their pollinating activities, and the true sum is probably a lot higher as this research was based on 10 crops, while bees are involved in probably more like 70. As we become more dependant on a monoculture of growing food, we become more reliant on the honeybee to do the bulk of this work. Also it is now thought that there are no wild honeybee colonies left in the UK.
The decline in honeybees coupled with the fact that other insects who assist in pollination such as bumblebees, solitary bees, moths and butterflies lose their habitats as a result of modern farming practices has huge consequences on pollination.

Global problem
Even if we were turn to importing more food, this is a global problem with honeybees dying on a similar scale all around the world, so our global food production is far from secure. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), the term used to describe the mysterious wipe-out of more than a third of US honeybees has not been confirmed in the UK and is happening all over Europe and the world.

For example, in Sichuan, China, a major pear producing area, nearly all the pear trees are already being hand-pollinated, a massively labour intensive process. Tim Lovett British Beekeepers Association president estimates that if people were to take over from bees, it would require a workforce of 30 million.

People are still unsure why the decline of the honeybee is happening in the UK and not certain if there is a link with the world decline in honeybees. There are theories of wet weather, the varoa mite and inappropriate controls to reduce the parasite could be blamed for our bee decline. The British Bee Keepers Association is appealing to the government for extra funding for research into honeybees so we have more of an understanding, yet they seem reluctant to increase funding.

There are measures that could be put in place now that don’t cost anything, most importantly tighter pesticides controls. Researchers have found that widely used pesticides can interfere with honeybees’ sophisticated communication systems and impair memory. EU agriculture ministers have backed proposals for more stringent safety tests on pesticides including extra safeguards to ensure chemicals are not toxic to bees. Our country was one of the few in European to abstain from agreeing to this plan. British farmers warn that tighter controls could destroy their crop production, which illustrates the short term thinking used, the chemicals which they want to save could be aiding the destruction of the honeybees, which farmers need as much as sun and rain to make crops – our food – to grow.

What can you do?

Sign the British Bee Keepers Association petition at and get your MP to sign the 1520 Early day motion for Bee health Research.