As the sunny weather continues, you might be expecting to see a small symbol of summertime rearing its head earlier than before: the European Honey Bee. However insect experts are abuzz with worry. A new BBC4 documentary ‘Who Killed The Honey Bee?’ highlights an unprecedented crisis facing bees worldwide. UK populations have fallen by a third in recent years. Far from just being good for honey, bees play a crucial role in sustaining global ecosystems. The European Honey Bee is the number one pollinator of fruit and vegetables worldwide and crucial for growing over ninety different crops. Without these unassuming, hardworking insects, world food production would collapse. Most of the problem stems from a mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The condition sees bees inexplicably vanishing from their hives, never to return.
The cause of CCD has divided experts. Many blame the intensive farming of single crops. These ‘monocultures’ mean bees are unable to survive in the wild and farmers must rely on insects imported by beekeepers to ensure pollination. In the US, some commercial beekeepers transport hives 3,000 miles to cater for increasing demand. Around 1 million hives are required for harvesting almond orchards of California alone, 80% of the total population.
Others believe that the increasing range of pesticides used in farming is to blame. Researchers at Penn State University found over 25 different types of pesticide in a single bee. They believe these combine to make deadly cocktail that could affect bee behaviour. Penn State research associate Mary Ann Frazier says this causes problems: "We can’t just look at adult bees any more. We have to ask the question: what happened when this bee was a larvae, what pesticides did it get, and how is that affecting it now"
Many however point the finger at the verroa mite, a parasite which transports deadly viruses between bees and has become immune to existing medicines.As a short term fix, many farmers are resorting to importing bees from Australia, the only continent not to be affected by the mite, while the University of Sussex is breeding a strain of ‘super bee’, which they hope will be more resistant to it.
All these threats highlights the real problem facing an insect which is vital for the existence of the world as we know it and as one beekeeper points out: "The Bee acts as a barometer for the wellbeing of the planet".