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Posted 29 July 08

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Updated 23 Jan 09

DEFRA Minster Hilary Benn today announced funding for honeybee research of £4,300,000 spread over five years. Although well short of the Eight million Pounds sought by the British Bee Keepers Association this is a step in the right direction and really quite surprising given the current financial situation.

Clearly the hard publicity Drive by BBKA Chairman Tim Lovett and the support from the great British Public in signing our petion forms has brought home to Government the serious problems we all have in keeping our bees alive and healthy and their important place in nature.

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This petition is now closed ... you can read the Prime Ministers response below ...

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Sign the Petition to the Prime Minister to Increase funding for research into honey bees at the National Bee Unit and other institutions.

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/bee-unit-funding/

The honey bee is an often overlooked but absolutely vital part of the environment and agriculture. Bees are said to be worth about a billion pounds to agriculture and horticulture but their role in general pollination and the environment is beyond measure. Recent reports from the USA and UK about massive losses in bee colonies indicate that urgent research needs to be done to understand and counter this trend along with combating the rise in antibiotic resistant varroa mites and other threats. However research funding to the National Bee Unit and other institutions by DEFRA has been cut hugely in recent years with the loss of many jobs and the consequent dispersal of knowledge. This petition urges the Government to put significant extra money into the relevant organisations that study bees and work with beekeepers both commercial and amateur to ensure that this essential creature is protected and encouraged.

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The Government's response:

Honey bees are important pollinators of crops and wild flowers and make an important contribution to sustainable agriculture and the environment. The Government recognises the importance of a strong bee health programme in England to protect these benefits and takes very seriously any biosecurity threat to the sustainability of the apiculture sector.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not reduced its expenditure with the National Bee Unit (NBU), and funding for this year remains at the same level as in recent years. In the 2007/8 financial year, Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are providing the NBU with funding of £1,518,000. There is an ongoing review of expenditure on all Defra programmes, including bee health, and it is not possible to give long-term commitments on the continuation of funding into the distant future for any particular programme. In addition, work is underway to develop a bee health strategy. This is being discussed with all sectors of the industry and should help establish priorities and clarify the roles and responsibilities of government and the industry. The strategy will also determine whether the current approach to disease control is the most effective use of resources or whether alternative approaches might yield better results in terms of disease protection, including any response to potential new threats. That review will include consideration of resource implications and the role that industry has to play in working in partnership with government. In the event of any resultant proposals to change the provision of the NBU's inspection services, there will be further consultation.

In addition, the budget for Bee Health Research and Development in 2007/08 is £192,000, which is comparable to previous years. The R&D programme underpins bee health policy and covers work on all exotic and statutory pests and diseases of bees. This year the programme is focusing on the development of a system for the monitoring and surveillance of Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida (Murray)) and assessing the effectiveness of the shook swarm technique for the control of European Foul Brood. A 3-year PhD studentship studying bee viruses will also start this year. Defra is collaborating with other funders to optimise the outcome of the research programme. The inaugural meeting of the Research Funders Forum will take place early in November.

Defra is aware of the press reports about the serious situation in the USA in respect of cases of abnormally high levels of colony loss described as Colony Collapse Disorder. However, despite continuing press speculation, we do not have evidence to suggest that there is something similar happening in the UK. Scientists and inspectors at the NBU are monitoring the situation and are in contact with experts in the USA and in Europe to learn about developments.

It is not unusual for some colonies to be found dead or absent at the end of winter. If beekeepers report such cases in England and Wales to the NBU they are routinely investigated. The very limited number of cases of high losses for which there is no ready explanation is being investigated in depth by the NBU and bee inspectors. The figures from inspections strongly indicate that colony losses in 2007 will not be significantly higher than the 11.1% recorded in 2006, reflecting the upward trend since 2001. The NBU's research and apiary assessments suggest these losses are primarily due to Varroa and inappropriate control. Uncontrolled mite populations can lead to an increase in the associated secondary pathogens like viruses or Nosema.

 

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