Search This Blog

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bees and climate change.

Last Thursday we were given an entertaining and very informative presentation on the subject of climate change and its impact on honey bees. As usual a good talk raises our level of interest and awareness in the subject. My own interest has led me to some interesting web sites. Here are some extracts from several sources related to the subject.

Defra, UK - Bee Health - Introduction

"Bees make an important contribution to the sustainability of the countryside, contributing both to agriculture and horticulture and to biodiversity. They also produce honey and other hive products.

The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) plays a dominant role, being the major managed pollinator available for field and outdoor fruit crops, while species of bumble bee (Bombus) are commercially reared for the managed pollination of a number of protected crops, including tomatoes. The economic value of crops grown commercially in the UK that benefit from bee pollination is estimated at around £120m-£200m p.a.. By contrast, the value of honey production in the UK fluctuates between £10-£30m p.a.. Honey bees also play an increasingly important pollination role in respect of many wild species of flora. The economic value of bees to wild plant pollination is thought to be substantial but impossible to evaluate because the pollination requirements of most species of wild plants in the UK are unknown."

There are thought to be some 44,000 beekeepers in the UK who maintain around 274,000 colonies of honey bees. Of these, around 300 are commercial beekeepers who are members of the Bee Farmers' Association; they manage around 40, 000 colonies. The remainder are small-scale beekeepers, many of whom are members of national and local beekeeping associations, such as the British Beekeepers' Association in England. There are around 33,000 beekeepers in England, who maintain some 230,000 colonies.

Here is an extract from the Independant newspaper. Here is a link.

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

But surely all bees do is make honey?

Far from it. They certainly do make honey, but more importantly, they are an essential agent of pollination for a vast range of plants, many of which are important human foodstuffs. Without the presence of bees, much of agriculture would be impossible, and this is a sobering thought right now, as feeding the world is suddenly becoming more difficult because of rising demand and the transfer of much crop production into biofuels, especially in the US.

Most of the pollination for more than 90 commercial crops grown throughout the United States is provided by Apis mellifera, the honey bee, and the value from the pollination to agricultural output in the country is estimated at $14.6bn (£8bn) annually. In Britain alone, pollination by bees of a suite of just 10 crops, ranging from apples and pears to oilseed rape, was calculated to be worth £165m per annum in 2007.

The BBKA points out that this is £800m-plus over five years – and the research programme they are calling for over the same period would cost a mere one hundredth of that. Yet the Government pleads poverty.

Here is an extract from the Somerset Beekeepers Association web site.

When the varroa mite was first discovered in Somerset, the Somerset Bee-keepers' Association foresaw the problem, which the growers were going to face and the important role which our craft would play. A Pollination Officer was appointed at that time, to act as a link between beekeepers and growers. A list was drawn up, of beekeepers who would be prepared to move their hives around, and contact was made with growers who required the services. This liaison has continued every year and is now an important feature of the Association's work.

Some crops are pollinated by wind, and insect pollination is not essential. Such a crop is Oil Seed Rape, but it has been found that even with this, the presence of honey bees results in yield increases. This is because the pollination period is shortened, resulting in quicker, and more even ripening of the seed. The crops where honey bees play a major role are

  • Top fruit: apples, pears, plums etc.
  • Field beans.
  • Borage.
  • Raspberries.
  • Strawberries.
  • Blackcurrants.
  • Runner beans.
  • Courgettes.

Because of the importance of the cider industry in Somerset, beekeepers and cider makers tend to work closely together.

If you would care to add your name to the list of beekeepers interested in pollination, or if you are a grower requiring hives for pollination, please contact the Somerset Pollination Officer whose contact details can be found in the About Us section.

There is a great deal of information about bees on the internet which can easily be accessed.

To finish this post here is a short extract from the web site of the Bee Farmers Association where they are debating the problems facing bee keepers in the face of changing weather patterns or in other words climate change.

Bee Farmers Association News 091007
By John Howat
Published: Sunday 28th October, 2007

The question now, is what can we expect in the future? The British climate is notoriously unpredictable, but has never been extreme. This seems to be changing. Last year in the very south where I live, the crop was low because the weather was too hot and dry, although not much further north some rain meant a bumper year. Between May and late July this year has been cool and wetter than since records began. West France suffered the same conditions. Yet the Eastern European mainland has suffered the hottest and driest year ever. Whether or not Global Warming is man-made, the fact remains that climate change is happening, and the I fear that the results will not be a warmer Mediterranean climate for the UK but will be disrupted weather patterns of the type we are now seeing, worse each year. Add to this the problems with Varroa and maybe small hive beetle and CCD (if it is in fact a new disease), and making a living from beekeeping will be more of a challenge than ever.