The data, released by the British Beekeepers' Association (BBKA), showed average national losses of 19.2% — a level, the BBKA said, that is both "unacceptable and unsustainable".
The annual survey of winter colony losses found the highest rates in northern England (32.1%) and the lowest in eastern England (12.8%).
The figures are a considerable improvement on last year when almost a third of all honeybees perished, but the BBKA said they highlighted the need to ring-fence grant money for pollinating insects (HW, 24 July). The £10m hybrid research fund set up to tackle the problem has so far been spent looking at all pollinating insects, not just bees.
BBKA president Tim Lovett said: "The improved figure is very welcome compared with the 30.5% for winter 2007/08 but is way short of the seven to 10% which until the past five years has been considered acceptable.
"It underlines the need for research into the causes and remedies for disease."