One in three of Northern Ireland’s honey bee colonies have vanished in the last year, it has been claimed.
UUP Agriculture spokesman Tom Elliott warned that more honey bees are predicted to vanish this spring unless funding is provided to beekeepers to investigate the cause. The call follows the announcement by Defra that an extra £4.3m has been made available to safeguard and research bee health in England.
Last year, some beekeepers reported bee losses as high as 50% through Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bee colonies vanish without trace.
An estimated third of fruit and vegetables eaten by humans depend on pollination by honeybees, and loss of colonies here could put the £50m-a-year Armagh apple industry at risk.
Mr Elliott called on Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew to make more funds available to beekeepers in Northern Ireland.
“I was lobbied last year by many bee keepers on the dire straits of the bee population in Northern Ireland and since then I know that a Bee Health Constituency Plan was set up and to become fully operational by mid 2009 in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The bad weather of 2008 can be partly to blame for the serious decline in the bee population but the forecast for 2009 is that one can expect further bee losses.
“We are now aware just how great our reliance on bees really is. Bees support environmental biodiversity through pollination and sustain a significant proportion of all agricultural crops in Northern Ireland. Bees are one of the keystones of most of the ecosystems in the UK and Europe.”
He added: “It is essential in Northern Ireland that funding is made available as quickly as possible to fund research into bee health and research.”
Last year, MEPs called on the European Commission to develop research into the parasites and diseases that are devastating hives.