Crisis in the combs

LYNN and West Norfolk enjoys a proud history in the world of beekeeping.

But the treasured hobby for many is facing huge difficulties from the varroa mite – a parasite which has accounted for a 30 per cent drop in our bee population over the past year.

The crisis comes at a time when beekeeping is booming and associations across the country have launched a campaign calling on the Government to increase the 200,000 spent each year on bee health research to 1.6 million.

Among the campaigners is the West Norfolk and Lynn Beekeeping Association, whose members joined a march down Whitehall in early November to deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street and demand immediate action.

Association chairman Ernie Dix (76) told the Lynn News: "Varroa is an ongoing problem. It is something we can get on top of with careful treatment, but we can never fully get rid of it.

"The problem is it also introduces viruses to the bee colonies which decimates bee numbers.

"In West Norfolk, over the last season, we lost quite a lot. We can make those numbers up during the summer, but we cannot tell if we have succeeded until the coming spring.

"I think we can keep on top of it but there needs to be a lot more work done by eminent people with more scientific experience than us.

"People do not realise how much we rely on bees. They are responsible for pollinating almost half the food we eat, if bees were not around we would really suffer in terms of food production."

Beekeeper Michael Lancefield, of Stanhoe, a fellow member of the West Norfolk and Lynn association, also has his concerns.

He said: "The parasite bites into the bee's bloodstream and triggers various viruses. We have been able to control this and knock the mites off. That worked well until they became resistant to it.

"On top of that, the two previous summers have been the most horrendous in recent history.

"The weather meant the bees could not get out and the flowers were not producing as much pollen, if any at all.

"A lot of people are very worried. The Government is not funding any reasonable research and Defra has said this is not the problem we think it is.

"We need proper research at PHD level, over a five-year period."

Mr Lancefield has lost about a third of his hives and said the commercial beekeepers, who have up to 50 or 60 hives, have had some of their worst returns since the 1940s.

He added: "Not many beekeepers have honey for sale. We are normally out at craft fairs, reaping the pleasures of what we have produced, but the bees did not produce very much.

"I think we will recover from this, but it may take a few years. We have to be optimistic.”

The West Norfolk and Lynn association runs an apiary (a collection of hives) in Flitcham, where aspiring beekeepers can learn all they need to know about the craft, and the level of interest is booming.

waiting list

At present there are 25 people on a waiting list for courses and the association has members ranging from 14 years old to those in their 60s and 70s on its books.

Mr Dix said: “A lot of young people are now realising how essential bees are. People are interested in food and where it comes from. It is a wonderful hobby.

“Lynn has always had a fantastic record of beekeeping and, compared with what I have seen in other beekeeping counties, we are pushing forward with great enthusiasm.”

The association holds its AGM at Tottenhill Village Hall from 2.30pm on Saturday, March 14. Anyone with an interest in beekeeping is welcome to attend.

For more information about the West Norfolk and Lynn Beekeeping Association, and the courses it offers, call Mr Dix on 01485 601076.