Sussex university lab researches falling number of bees and insects

A laboratory charged with saving increasingly endangered honeybees and other insects opened last week at the University of Sussex.

Professor of apiculture Francis Ratnieks leads a team of researchers aiming to solve problems faced by honeybees and beekeepers.

The British honeybee is threatened by pests, diseases and a loss of flowers in the countryside. A third of hives were reported as lost during the winter.

"Honeybees are the main pollinator of flowering plants and contributor to producing flowers and food crops, adding £192m a year to the UK economy," said Ratnieks.

The laboratory will tackle four research projects, known as the Sussex Plan for Honeybee Health & Wellbeing.

The first project - breeding more hygienic bees that can keep the hives clear of disease and pests - is underway.

Norman Carreck, one of the lab's eight research staff, said: "Honeybees are adaptable in most climate conditions from deserts to perma-frosts. It's hard to see a direct threat from climate change. It's more likely to be disease."

The British Beekeepers' Association welcomed the new funding drive for bee-health research. This is in addition to the £2m promised by Defra recently.

Association president Tim Lovett said: "This represents a victory for the campaign that British beekeepers have undertaken during the past 12 months.

"We hope most of these funds will be directed towards practical research into the problems and threats that honeybees face in this country."

  • The Soil Association has condemned Defra secretary Hilary Benn's decision not to ban the neonicotinoids chemical group. Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: "The Government prefers to blame 'very wet weather' and 'less experienced beekeepers' than to control bee-killing chemicals that have been used on up to 1.5 million acres (600,000ha) of UK farmland."

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