Extremely high losses in the Scottish honeybee population

13 August 2013 Last updated at 12:55 Share this pageEmailPrint

Scottish honey bee losses ‘extremely high’

A study of Scottish honey bees has found that more than 30% of managed colonies failed to survive the winter.

The survey, by Strathclyde University for the Scottish Beekeepers Association (SBA), showed the loss rate had almost doubled from the previous year.

Some 156 colonies out of the 498 taking part in the survey were lost.

Dr Alison Gray said it was an “extremely high loss rate” which could have an effect on crop pollination, agricultural yields and food prices.

“The loss rate last winter is the highest we have found since these surveys began in 2006 – and is similar to that over the winter of 2009/10, when we estimate that 30.9% of colonies were lost,” she said.

“Results from European colleagues conducting similar surveys show that the loss rate in Scotland is amongst the highest in Europe this year, while similarly high losses have been reported recently from England and Wales.”

The results were based on responses to online and postal questionnaires from a random sample of 300 members of the SBA, which is thought to represent most of the country’s estimated 1,300 beekeepers.

The university’s Magnus Peterson, who also worked on the study, collected data on wild honey bees.

Looking at last winter, 11 out of 20 wild honey bee colonies, known to be alive last September – and reported on this spring – have now died.

Mr Peterson said: “The latest results indicate a low survival rate, of just 45%, amongst feral colonies over this last winter.

“This is the worst winter survival rate amongst the feral colonies known to the volunteers since they started monitoring them five years ago.”

Dr Gray said bees face many challenges internationally including habitat loss, reduction in the variety of forage sources, the spread of pests and possible adverse effects of pesticides.

She added that poor weather conditions in northern Europe were making beekeeping a challenge and said survival was “difficult” for honey bees.

“The difficult weather conditions are a particular problem in Scotland, with severe winters followed by long cold wet springs being a problem, especially if it comes after a poor wet summer as in this last year,” she said.

In April, the Scottish government made £200,000 available to help commercial bee farmers to restock and rebuild their colonies which were devastated by prolonged winter weather conditions.

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