Could Britain Save the World’s Bees?

  • Published on May 19th, 2009

Black bee

There are any number of reasons that we should worry about bees: not least that without them, some agronomists predict that the planet could only survive for four years, before the catastrophic failure of crop pollination led to a similarly catastrophic collapse of human civilisation. Forget tsunamis, changes in the Earth’s magnetic core, the arrival of aliens or the mutation of some native species to giant size—our biggest risk is that we lose those small, aerodynamically impossible, stripy creatures so famous for their eccentric flight, useful wax and delicious honey. It’s estimated that 35% of our crops, globally, require bees for pollination.

British Bees are Tougher

In the UK this winter, one in three hives lost their queens, resulting in colony collapse. The reasons are various, ranging from bad weather and the use of insecticides through to the spread of the varroa mite which has preyed on British beehive colonies since 1992.

However, recent research released by the Bee Improvement and Bee Breeder’s Association (BIBBA) found that the hardy British bee, the native black, may actually have advantages over the Mediterranean species which are more common on the European mainland. This is because the black bee has thicker body hair and a slightly larger body, which gives them greater reserves to cope through the winter, and also suggests they may perform better during the relatively short British breeding season.

Black bees could aid in reintroduction

Across the UK there are small and isolated populations of the native black bee that the public is being invited to help BIBBA map, by reporting sightings. With financial support from the Cooperative Bank, BIBBA plans to develop a breeding programme that would help increase native colonies and reduce the level of losses being experienced in British hives.

If you’d like to report a black bee colony, or a swarm, to BIBBA, then I’m afraid you’ll have to wend your way through a pretty labyrinthine website and then guess who to send your information to. I’m venturing that it’s the Chairman, who is also in charge of something called Project Discovery, which is not described, as far as I can tell, anywhere else on the BIBBA site. One can only hope that the Cooperative Bank funding will establish a simpler route for the public to contribute to solving a problem that could affect us all …

Black bee courtesy of lobos.marcos at Flickr under a creative commons licence

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