Somerset beekeepers hit as rain proves deadly for honey harvest
Britain’s honey harvest has been devastated by poor weather with West Country beekeepers suffering the worst decline, 76 per cent down on last year.
The cold and rain may have a longer-term impact with new queens unable to produce sufficient brood to see colonies through to next year the British Beekeeper Association warns.
Its 2012 Honey Survey highlights the dramatic fall with many experienced beekeepers describing 2012 as their “most difficult beekeeping year ever.”
Beekeepers’ skills will be needed this winter to prevent mass starvation of colonies which need a good reserve of honey to feed on through the winter months.
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The average annual honey crop per hive was down 72 per cent compared to 2011. Just 8lbs of honey was produced on average per hive, compared to the normal annual average of 30 lbs. Rain and cold weather were cited by 88 per cent of beekeepers as the main factors.
The crisis led to an unprecedented mid-summer starvation warning being issued by the BBKA to help keep honey bees alive.
The South West suffered the biggest percentage drop with an average of 7.1 lbs compared with 29.5 lbs in 2011. Northern Ireland performed the best but still saw yields down by more than 50 per cent.
Gerald Fisher, president of Somerset Beekeepers’ Association, said: “In 40 years of beekeeping I have never known such an extraordinary year. We were feeding our bees mid-summer which I don’t think I have ever done. Goodness knows what it will do to the price of honey. We are standing by for losses this winter, but in the long term nature tends to make up for what has been lost.”
As well as its annual honey survey, the BBKA surveys its members to monitor winter colony survival levels and will report on this in June next year. Only then will the full impact of this year’s unusual weather patterns become apparent.
The BBKA runs a scheme, www.adoptabeehive.com, which enables people to become ‘armchair beekeepers’ and follow the operations of a local beekeeper to raise funds for research projects to help protect the honey bee.
Angela Woods, secretary of the London Beekeepers Association, said the survey may also highlight the lack of forage in the city for many bees. “Rather than putting beehives on office roofs, we encourage companies in London who want to help to look at different ways of supporting bees and beekeepers.
"We need more forage for the bees and better-educated beekeepers. Individuals can help too by becoming an armchair beekeeper and taking up the BBKA’s offer to Adopt a Beehive.”
The survey also explores the general status of beekeeping across the country and revealed this year that the average beekeeper has been beekeeping for eight years, manages six hives apiece and that just over half, 56 per cent, of beekeepers have attended some form of training in the past year.
“This is music to our ears,” says Tim Lovett, public affairs director and past president of the BBKA. “The BBKA has put great emphasis on training and developing better beekeeping skills in recent years and while trends in this area are encouraging, we need more resources to put into training, education and bee health research, to continue to support our honey bees and other pollinators.
“Without training, this year’s situation might have been a lot worse.”