Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees

I used to be a beekeeper many years ago and have always been interested in bees. Apparently the bee world is in crisis, and they are dying out worldwide; China, Argentina, Europe and America. France has lost ⅔ of it's agricultural bees, and the USA ⅓.

The name given to this is Colony Collapse Disorder and the cause is at present unknown, and there is no cure. It is speculated that there may be a variety of reasons for this such as :
1. A parasitic mite called Varroa which has become resistant to the chemicals formerly used to kill them. The mite also carries viruses which are constantly mutating, and they infect the bees.
2. Crop spraying
3.The practice of moving bees hundreds of miles to pollinate specific crops. The physical process of being moved is very stressful to bees, and it is thought possible that they are becoming undernourished as they are feeding on specific crops rather than being free to chose their own wide variety of food, so their diets may have become deficient.

Should the decline continue at its present rate it is estimated that all agricultural bees will be dead in about seven years. Although bumble bees and others are helpful in pollination, because of present farming techniques the are also in decline. It is reported that Einstein said if there were no honey bees the world would survive for about four years.

When I had bees of my own I joined a bee club, at first there were only six of us, but the numbers quickly increased. Pete and Toby would sometimes come to the informal meetings where honey cakes were served with tea, and sometimes mead. Members became very passionate about their bees; one time we met at the vicar's house and two of them were arguing about the best time to move bees from one place to another, and then began punching each other in the vicarage garden, egged on by their laughing wives, until the vicar separated them!

The local council had my phone number to call if there was a bee emergency, such as a swarm, which I would go off and collect. It was a valuable prize at the beginning of the season, either to sell or keep for honey production. It occurred to me that it would be a good idea if Pete, suitably kitted up, would collect swarms as a way of making some extra cash. One hot summer Sunday I got a call, and took Pete to watch how it was done.

It was a humiliating day, and despite the heat I was glad I was in disguise in my bee suit. The swarm was in a quiet West Hampstead cul-de -sac. All the neighbours got deck chairs out into the street to watch the fun, while they were drinking lemonade. One of these people happened to be a rather handsome and popular TV actor.

I could not catch these bees, and they kept decamping and moving to yet another garden. I spent all afternoon trying to get them, and once everyone had drifted off I at last got the queen and a few others, and had to set the box up so that the rest of the swarm would eventually follow the queen, and all go into the collecting box as it got dark. Pete took a dim view of the whole proceedings, and my idea was quietly dropped.

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