Where have all the bees gone?
21 April 2009, by Tamera Jones
UK bee populations have declined by between 10 and 15 per cent in the last two years and the situation is repeated across Europe.
Climate change and colony collapse disorder have been blamed for the fall.
The news has prompted a £10 million research programme - launched today -
to identify the main threats to bees and other insect pollinators.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC's Today programme, 'There is a range of things happening here: diseases like varroa, foulbrood and noxema, the bad weather in the last few years and loss of habitat.'
Benn said the UK needs more research to understand why numbers are falling. But the UK also needs to improve the habitat for bees, offer more advice to bee keepers, and develop new treatments.
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'[This] is one example of us taking the natural environment for granted, thinking it would always be there regardless of what we did,' he added.
'With one in three mouthfuls we eat coming from crops pollinated by insects, as well as the economic importance, this is a real wakeup call for the world.'
He said the world needs to look after biodiversity, 'not only because it is magnificent and beautiful but because we rely on it for our existence as human beings.'
Pollinators - including honey and bumble bees, butterflies and moths - are susceptible to a variety of diseases and environmental threats, some of which have increased significantly over the last five to ten years. Climate change, in particular warmer winters and wetter summers, has had a major impact on pollinators.
As a result, numbers of pollinators have been declining steadily in recent years, with the number of bees in the UK alone falling by between 10 and 15 per cent over the last two years. This is what has led to the launch of the Pollinator Initiative.
The funding will be made available to research teams across the UK under the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership, a major initiative by UK funders to help respond to changes to our environment. The funding will come from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.
Professor Alan Thorpe, Chief Executive of NERC, 'This research will provide vital insights into why there has been a steep decline in these insect populations in recent years and help us to find solutions to the problem.'
NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology will provide post-award coordination for the programme and will contribute special expertise in long-term and large-scale ecology.
The announcement has been welcomed by Tim Lovett, President of the British Beekeepers Association.
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