BRITAIN has lost over half the honey bees kept in managed hives and wild honey bees are nearly extinct, according to new research.
Conducted by leading bee experts at the University of Reading, the research estimates it would cost UK farmers £1.8billion each year to hand-pollinate crops without bees.
Therefore beekeeper Mike Titterton, who breeds colonies for sale to new beekeepers, feels he is providing a valuable resource for farmers in south Lincolnshire.
Mike, who is based in the Holbeach area, has been keeping bees on and off since being quite young. At this time of year he has about 25 hives dotted around private land in the south of the county, the bees all helping to pollinate crops.
Mike says: “Without bees, we wouldn’t have a third of our food crop. It’s generally agreed bees increase yields by ten per cent and provide a more even fertilisation, so the crops come all at once rather than being staggered.”
Mike admits he finds working with bees fascinating and says a queen bee, which can live for five years, is “just an egg laying machine”, producing up to 1,500 each day.
He explained: “In the wild, they build a colony and there will be 75,000 bees in there and if they are working hard, they will only live for five weeks, so the queen bee constantly has to replace them.”
The main concern for beekeepers is swarming, when the colony decides it doesn’t have enough room and so creates a new queen bee who leaves the hive within a week, taking half the colony with her. To avoid loss of bees in this way, Mike visits his hives every five days.
Mike said: “If you are not around to catch them you have lost half your bees, probably lost your honey production that year and you have lost your experienced queen.”
The research was commissioned by Friends of the Earth, which is urging the Government to commit to a British bee action plan in order to save the important pollinators.