Honey harvest 'devastated' by wet summer

Honey bees in a bee hive
Image caption Some beekeepers were forced to feed their bees with sugar syrup to avoid starvation over the summer

A cold and wet summer across the UK has caused a "dramatic fall" in the amount of honey produced by British bees, a survey of beekeepers has revealed.

Yields are down 72% compared to 2011, research by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA) suggested.

An average of 8lb (3.6kg) of honey was produced per hive this year, compared to the annual average of 30lb (13.6kg).

The majority of those surveyed (88%) said the rain and cold weather was the main reason the harvest was poor.

More than 2,700 beekeepers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were surveyed in the BBKA's annual Honey Survey.

The honey harvest was lowest in London, where hives produced an average of 5.6lb (2.5kg) of honey.

'Most difficult year'

In Northern Ireland, hives yielded the highest average of 25.8lb (11.7kg) of honey - but the figure is only half the amount normally produced by bees in the area.

Earlier this year, the cold and wet conditions forced the organisation to issue a mid-summer warning to feed honey bee colonies with sugar syrup if necessary to avoid starvation.

Image caption A harsh summer in 2012 may mean there are fewer honey bees in 2013

Honey bees produce honey as a food store. Normally, this store would be enough to see them through the winter months.

The BBKA warned the worst may be yet to come, as a lack of food for bees and wet conditions mean breeding queens have been unable to produce a large enough brood to see colonies through the winter.

Peter Hutton, a beekeeper in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, described 2012 as "the most difficult year I have known in my 53 years of beekeeping".

"Bad weather in spring prevented honey bees in many areas from collecting nectar from early flowering crops such as oil seed rape, and the rain continued in many places throughout June and July preventing honey bees from foraging on later crops," he said.

In London, where yields were hardest hit, beekeeping experts said that in addition to the bad weather there was a lack of food for bees in the city.

Angela Woods, secretary of the London Beekeepers' Association, said: "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."

'Need help'

Tim Lovett, the BBKA's public affairs director, said there has been greater emphasis on "training and developing" beekeepers in recent years.

He added: "We need more resources to put into training, education and bee health research, to continue to support our honey bees and other pollinators.

"Well trained beekeepers are better equipped to deal with the adverse conditions we have seen this year.

"Without training, this year's situation might have been a lot worse."

Wildlife campaign group Friends of the Earth called on Prime Minister David Cameron to launch an action plan to help British bees.

Paul de Zylva, a senior nature campaigner, said: "A winter drought followed by the record-breaking wet summer has affected farming, gardens and bees alike.

"There is a wider issue with the decline of the more than 260 species of wild bees that don't make honey but are vital to pollinating our plants crops and trees.

"Bees need our help."

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