British Honeybee Colonies Suffered From Harsh Winter
June 13, 2013

British Honeybee Colonies Suffered From Harsh Winter

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

2012 delivered some harsh weather in England. A long and wet summer was followed by a very cold and unpredictable winter that lasted into the start of spring. Such shaky weather conditions are now being blamed for a massive loss of honey bee colonies in the area.

According to the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), one-third of all the bee colonies in England have been lost – more than double the amount of colonies lost to the winter in the previous year. These record decreases in population were noted in all areas across England, with some areas seeing upwards of a 50 percent loss in the number of honey bees normally found there. BBKA chairman David Aston believes these losses would have been worse if it weren´t for the beekeepers in the area taking so much care to protect the colonies.

“Those honey bee colonies which have survived the winter and are now prospering have done so in the main due to the careful nurturing through the winter by beekeepers who have spent much time and effort feeding and carrying out frequent checks on hives, incurring significant additional expense meeting the need to continually feed their bees,” said Aston.

“The training and education of beekeepers to be able to adapt their beekeeping practices to help their honey bees cope with this period of changing weather patterns is a high priority for all beekeeping associations.”

According to The Guardian, the losses could be just as bad in Scotland. The Scottish beekeepers association has yet to release their annual survey, but they´re already predicting losses near the 50 percent mark.

The BBKA says the long, wet summer endured in England last year was just the beginning of the problems for the honeybees. With so much rain, vegetation became saturated and made foraging for food tough for the little insects. With food scarce, the colonies became weak as they headed into the cold winter months. These weakened bees were then more susceptible to diseases and other stressors.

What´s more, as these weakened colonies headed into the winter, they began to suffer from what beekeepers call “isolation starvation,” an affliction that´s just as frightening as it sounds. When temperatures drop below freezing, the weakened bees find it hard to move close to what little food they were able to store over the summer. These starving bees ultimately die and the colony collapses.

Glyn Davies, a spokesperson for the BBKA told The Guardian that the news for British honeybees may be even worse than they predicted.

The association stopped collecting information for today´s report in March of this year, before the long British winter had let loose its grasp. If colony loss had continued at the rate it was in the months prior, there could be an even greater decrease in honeybee population reported later.

"April this year was very cold, and the start of May, so bees were confined to the hive for much longer and we still had bees dying from starvation in May. So losses could be much more serious," said Davies.