Bee keepers warned

BEEKEEPERS in Galloway are being warned to be on their guard for the twin dangers of the Varroa mite and toxic pesticides.

Both can have a serious effect on the health of bee colonies and have contributed to the dramatic decline in bees recently affecting our delicate ecosystem. Pollination is essential for agriculture, as well as the reproduction of non-food flowers and plants.

Varroa is a parasitic mite of honey bees, capable of devastating honey bee colonies. According to results of scientific research projects, the main cause of honey bee colony loss is this mite, which can be found in almost every apiary in Europe. Unfortunately, the Western honeybee has no or limited natural defences to the varroa mite. If left untreated an infested colony will usually die within two to three years.

Although bee viruses usually persist as unapparent infections and cause no overt signs of disease, they can dramatically affect honey bee health and shorten the lives of infected bees under certain conditions.

Within the UK, Varroa is now endemic in England and Wales; present and widespread on both mainland Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Since Varroa cannot be eradicated, every beekeeper with infested colonies must practice effective mite control. It is the major challenges that beekeepers and beekeeping face today.

Recently, the European Food Safety Authority admitted that toxic pesticides such as neonicotinoids may well have an adverse effect on the health of honeybees.

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has reacted with alarm to the admission that the risk assessment analysis for these pesticides was inadequate, and called for further urgent research.

Two behavioural study reports in the journal Science showing that low levels of neonicotinoid pesticides can significantly affect bee colonies. One chemical led to a dramatic decline in bumble bee queens, and another interfered with the ability of honey bee foragers to find their way back to the hive. The recent dramatic decline in bee numbers, known as colony collapse disorder, has been attributed to a number of factors, including pesticide use, and these studies provide important evidence putting neonicotinoids in the frame. Bees pollinate 90 per cent of the world’s commercial plants. More than 240 million acres of crops in America are treated with neonicotinoids.

Alyn said: “This news vindicates what we in the European Parliament have been saying for some time: that there is a clear prima facie case that the worrying decline in bee numbers is, at least in part, caused by toxic chemicals sprayed on fields. Even more worryingly, European authorities have been lax in acknowledging the possibility and stress testing their risk assessment procedures.

“While these two studies clearly need to be followed up with more research, they provide useful evidence, and serious questions need to be asked about how such pesticides were allowed on the market without proper analysis of their long term effects on bee populations.

“We need tough pre-authorisation procedures which assess every eventuality for animal health and the environment, and will be monitoring EFSA’s actions carefully to ensure that their assessments are properly reformed.”