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Bee Keeping

346 posts in this topic

Last flight of the honeybee?

A bee-less world wouldn't just mean the end of honey - Einstein said that if the honeybee became extinct, then so would mankind. Alison Benjamin reports on a very real threat.

Dave Hackenberg's bees have been on the road for four days. To reach the almond orchards of California's Central Valley, they pass through the fertile plains of the Mississippi, huge cattle ranches and oilfields in Texas, and the dusty towns of New Mexico on their 2,600-mile journey from Florida. The bees will have seen little of the dramatic landscape, being cooped up in hives stacked four high on the back of trucks. Each truck carries close to 500 hives, tethered with strong harnesses and covered with black netting to prevent the millions of passengers from escaping. When the drivers pull over to sleep, the bees have a break from the constant movement and wind speed, but there's no opportunity to look around and stretch their wings.

Their final destination is some two hours north of Los Angeles. As the sun begins to fade over the vast, flat terrain, the convoy slowly snakes through orchards filled with row upon row of almond trees stretching as far as the eye can see. Every February, the valley plays host to billions of honeybees as trees burst into blossom, blanketing the landscape in a soft, pinkish hue which extends to the horizon.

The sandy loam and Mediterranean climate are perfect for the cultivation of almonds, but that's where any comparisons to picturesque orchards of Spain or Italy end. Here, there are no verdant weeds, wild flowers or grass verges to please the eye, just never-ending trees that form what looks like an outdoor production line.

In the cool hours after sunset and before sunrise, more than one million hives are unloaded at regular intervals between the trees by commercial beekeepers such as Dave Hackenberg, who have travelled from the far corners of the US to take part in the world's largest managed pollination event. The mammoth orchards of Central Valley stretch the distance from London to Aberdeen, and the 60 million almond trees planted with monotonous uniformity along the 400-mile route require half of all the honeybees in the US to pollinate them - a staggering 40 billion.

By February 16, National Almond Day in the US, the trees are usually covered in flowers and humming with the sound of busy bees. Attracted by the sweet nectar that each flower offers, the bees crawl around on the petals to find the perfect sucking position. As they do so, their furry bodies are dusted with beads of pollen. As they fly from blossom to blossom in search of more of the sweet energy drink, they transfer pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part, and so fertilise it. Not long afterwards, the plant's ovaries swell into fruit, which by late August turn into precious, oval-shaped nuts.

Without this army of migrant pollinators paying a visit for three weeks every year, the trees would fail to bear the almonds that are California's most valuable horticultural export. Last year, they earned the state more than $1.9bn, double the revenue from its Napa Valley vineyards. Moreover, 80% of the world's almonds now come from this pocket of the planet. But the supply of almonds in confectionery, cakes and packets of nuts is now threatened by a mysterious malady that is causing honeybees to disappear.

Hackenberg was the first beekeeper to report that his bees had vanished. On a November day 18 months ago, he checked the hives in his Florida bee yard to find they were empty. "They weren't dead, they were just gone," he recalls.

Since then, close on two million colonies of honeybees across the US have been wiped out. The strange phenomenon, dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), is also thought to have claimed the lives of billions of honeybees around the world. In Taiwan, 10 million honeybees were reported to have disappeared in just two weeks, and throughout Europe honeybees are in peril.

In Britain, John Chapple was the first to raise the alarm. In January 2007, he lost all of the 14 colonies in his garden in west London. "It's too cold at that time of year to open the hives," he says, "so I always check on the bees by giving the hive a thump and waiting for what sounds like a roaring sound to come back. But there was nothing, just silence." When he opened the hives to see what had happened, he found them practically empty. Examination of a further 26 hives scattered across the capital revealed that two-thirds had perished.

"I was completely shocked," says Chapple, who chairs the London Beekeepers' Association. "I could attribute some losses to a failing queen bee or wax moths, but there were a few I could find no reason for. There was a healthy queen and a few bees, but nothing else." Chapple's inquiries as to whether the parks where he kept some of his hives had sprayed new pesticides also drew a blank.

He was not alone. Beekeepers in north-west London also reported strange losses. Chapple calls the disappearance the "Mary Celeste syndrome". A year later, a survey of hives by government bee inspectors across Britain has found that one in five colonies has perished this winter.

There are some 270,000 honeybee hives in Britain run by 44,000 keepers, more than 90% of them amateurs. According to estimates by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), bees contribute £165m a year to the economy through their pollination of fruit trees, field beans and other crops. In addition, the 5,000 tonnes of British honey sold in UK stores generates a further £12m.

UK farming minister Lord Rooker, however, warned last year that honeybees are in acute danger: "If nothing is done about it, the honeybee population could be wiped out in 10 years," he said. Last month, he launched a consultation on a national strategy to improve and protect honeybee health.

People's initial response to the idea of a bee-less world is often either, "That's a shame, I'll have no honey to spread on my toast" or, "Good - one less insect that can sting me." In fact, honeybees are vital for the pollination of around 90 crops worldwide. In addition to almonds, most fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are dependent on honeybees. Crops that are used as cattle and pig feed also rely on honeybee pollination, as does the cotton plant. So if all the honeybees disappeared, we would have to switch our diet to cereals and grain, and give our wardrobes a drastic makeover.

According to Albert Einstein, our very existence is inextricably linked to bees - he is reputed to have said: "If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left."

Bees are a barometer of what man is doing to the environment, say beekeepers; the canary in the coalmine. Just as animals behave weirdly before an earthquake or a hurricane, cowering in a corner or howling in the wind, so the silent, empty hives are a harbinger of a looming ecological crisis. But what is causing them to vanish - pesticides, parasites, pests, viruses? No one knows for sure. The more fanciful theories when CCD was first detected included an al-Qaida plot to wreck US agriculture, radiation from mobile phones and even celestial intervention in the form of honeybee rapture.

Scientists around the world are trying to pinpoint the culprit, but it is proving elusive. They have even set up an international network to monitor honeybee losses - a sort of Interpol for bees - which is operating out of Switzerland. Its coordinator, bee pathologist Dr Peter Neumann, blames a bloodsucking mite called varroa. Little bigger than a pinhead, it has preyed on honeybees in Europe and the US since its arrival 30 years ago. Under a microscope, the reddish-brown mite looks like a cross between a jellyfish and a Frisbee. It activates lethal viruses in honeybees and carries them from bee to bee when it feeds on their blood, like a dirty syringe spreading HIV/Aids. "It has to be the backbone of the problem," Neumann says. "But it is probably not acting alone."

In the US, where the genetic code of the honeybee was unravelled by scientists two years ago, they have been employing advanced technology to discover if a new virus is responsible for killing the bees. Genome sequencing techniques uncovered the DNA of a virus called Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) that was found in almost all of the hives suffering from CCD. The discovery, published in Science, was hailed as a major breakthrough in the investigation. But honeybees are riddled with latent viruses. They become a problem and cause disease only when the bee's immune system is shot. Like humans, they are prone to illness when they are stressed and run-down. So the real question is, what is making the bees too weak to fight a virus?

The answer is probably overwork, coupled with various environmental factors that are the flipside of pollination on an industrial scale and intensified food production. After Hackenberg's bees have pollinated the almonds in California, they head north to the apple orchards of Washington State, then east for the cranberries and pumpkins, before reaching Maine in May to pollinate blueberries. In a year, they can cover 11,000 miles. It's a well-worn route that's travelled by many of the 1,000 commercial beekeepers in America who between them own 90% of the country's 2.4 million honeybee colonies. It is pollination, rather than honey production, that keeps US beekeepers in business. In 2007, honey production was worth $160m to the US economy, compared with pollination services that have been estimated at $15bn.

Joe Traynor is a California bee broker. From a small office in a quiet side street in downtown Bakersfield, on the southern tip of Central Valley, he runs a lucrative business matching almond growers with beekeepers. I put to him that surely all this moving around of bees, confined to their hives for long periods, must be stressful for them. He admits that too much travel is not good for their health: "When you're trucking bees, they need sleep, just as humans do, and the bumping around in the truck for two to three days keeps them awake, and this lowers their resistance to pests and disease."

Hackenberg, however, disagrees: "I've been doing this 40-odd years. We've done all the same things, but the rules have changed. Something's messing up."

Hackenberg, 59, wears cowboy boots, a checked shirt and blue jeans. He even has a hard hat in the shape of a Stetson, with netting attached that he wears when unloading beehives. He began his own investigations into what killed 2,000 of his honeybees at the end of 2006, by talking to growers and reading up on pesticide use and research into their effects on bees. "It's those new neonicotinoid pesticides that growers are using," he says. "That's what's messing up the bees' navigation system so they can't find their way home."

Honeybees have a sophisticated dance language they use to communicate with each other in the hive. Until Karl von Frisch unlocked the mysteries of this dance - his discovery won him a Nobel prize in 1973 - we didn't fully appreciate that bees returning to the hive laden with nectar and pollen will tell their sisters (all worker bees are female) where they got their supplies by doing a dance that points to the location of the flowers in relation to the sun's position.

Tests have shown that the pesticides Hackenberg refers to can interfere with the bees' communication and orientation skills, and also impair memory.

With innocuous brand names such as Gaucho, Assail and Merit, these pesticides are used worldwide, from sunflower fields to apple orchards, lawns to golf courses. The chemicals they contain are an artificial type of nicotine that acts as a neurotoxin that attacks insects' nervous systems on contact or ingestion. Because it is systemic, the chemical moves throughout a plant, so if it is applied as a seed dressing, it will travel to the shoots, stem, leaves and flowers where bees can come into contact with small doses. Many of these widely used pesticides are classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as "highly toxic to bees" and come with a warning label intended to help prevent their exposure to the pollinators.

"It's in such small print that the growers don't see it," Hackenberg says. He accuses farmers of "stacking" - or mixing - pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. "No one has ever tested what happens to the toxicity if they do mix, simply because the chemical companies are not required to by law, but this combination could be a thousand times more lethal than if the chemicals are applied separately."

In Britain, beekeeping is very small-scale compared with the US. There are a few hundred professional beekeepers, who run an average of 100 hives each; only around 50 of them transport bees to orchards, usually over distances of 25 or so miles, rather than across a continent. Many orchards provide a year-round home for hives kept by amateur beekeepers, so there is no need for migratory beekeepers. But in this country, as in the rest of Europe, it is hard to escape pesticides and the varroa mite.

In France, beekeepers have for more than a decade waged a war against the chemical giant Bayer CropScience. They hold responsible the company's bestselling pesticide, imidacloprid, trade name Gaucho, for killing a third of the country's 1.5 million colonies. In 1999, the French government banned the use of Gaucho on sunflower crops after thousands took to the streets in protest. Two further pesticides were banned because of their potential link to bee deaths. It appeared to stem the massive bee die-offs for a time, even though the manufacturers' own tests demonstrated there is no correlation, and a long-term study by the French food safety agency revealed no significant differences in death rates before and after pesticides were banned. This winter, bee deaths across France are reported to have shot up again to 60%.

Bayer is also being blamed by German beekeepers for the eerie silence along the Rhine valley, where the buzzing of bees is a common sound at this time of year. They say two-thirds of honeybees have been killed this month by the pesticide clothianidin, sold under the trade name Poncho, which has been widely applied on sweet corn. As a result of the bee deaths, eight pesticides, including clothianidin, have been temporarily suspended in Germany. Anecdotal evidence of pesticide-related bee deaths in Italy and Holland is also piling up.

European beekeepers accuse scientists and government agencies of being in the pocket of the chemical companies. It's a similar story in the US, where scientists maintain that there is no correlation between the bees' disappearance and pesticide use. According to Hackenberg: "Big Ag has control of the USDA [the US Department of Agriculture] from the secretary right down to the lowest guy on the totem pole."

Jeff Pettis is not sure where he comes on the pole. The senior manager at the federal bee laboratory in Maryland, he's the man responsible for coordinating the US government's response to CCD. Pettis advises some beekeepers may do well to forgo the almond pollination and rest their bees. "You are getting them ready for February when the sunlight hours and the temperature are telling them it's too early in the year to be foraging at full strength," he says.

Deceiving bees is an essential part of the business. Beekeepers dupe them into thinking it's already summer by moving them to warm locations in winter and feeding them an array of protein and energy supplements. The more food that comes into the hive, the more eggs the queen lays, to create more of the worker bees to go out and pollinate.

The bee broker Joe Traynor says the deception goes much further than trucking bees south. "We're interfering with their natural cycle because we want strong colonies for almond pollination. We're stimulating hives in August, September and October, and making the queens do a lot more laying. As a result the queens are suffering burnout. It used to be that a beekeeper could pretty much leave his bees alone during winter. That's no longer the case."

Moreover, scientists funded by the Almond Board of California are now experimenting with artificial pheromones that trick bees into thinking there are more larvae in the hive that need feeding, so they forage more, and in the process pollinate more almond blossom.

This is the Almond Board's profit-driven response to a potential shortfall of honeybees: to work even harder those that remain. Bees are being treated as a machine with no consideration for their life cycle and downtimes. And any machine pushed to its limits and not well maintained will break.

Environmentalists argue for conservation measures on land planted with single crops that will both improve honeybee nutrition and attract wild pollinators that could shoulder some of the honeybees' workload. Monoculture, the hallmark of modern agriculture, covers much of the world's 1.5bn hectares of arable land. Single-crop plantations and orchards can stretch for hundreds of kilometres. The advantages for the farmer are manifold: the crop blooms at the same time, can be treated with the same pesticides and can be harvested together for maximum efficiency. But for honeybees, pollen collected from one crop does not provide a balanced, nutritious diet. Scientists agree that malnourished bees are more susceptible to disease and pesticide poisoning, while the best-fed are the hardiest.

Planting hedgerows of wild flowers would give honeybees a more varied menu. While this has happened in Europe, US almond growers have proved resistant to the idea, concerned that the bees would make fewer visits to the almond blossom if they had a choice. But hedgerows would also provide food and habitat for other pollinators such as butterflies, bumblebees and solitary bees. There are 4,500 wild bee species in North America that are capable of pollinating myriad fruits and vegetables - some more efficiently than honeybees.

Could they prevent a pollination crisis if honeybees become extinct? Only if they have somewhere to make a home in the orchards and fields, and something to eat after the single crop has bloomed. Monoculture deprives them on both counts.

The Xerces Society runs a pollinator conservation project in northern California. Farms in Yolo County receive a mixture of plants that flower throughout the year and nest blocks for wild bees, and they keep large areas of soil untilled for native bees to live on. They say they have seen the return of native bees and benefited from their pollination services. But final details being hammered out in a farm bill on Capitol Hill look like trimming conservation budgets and reducing financial incentives for farmers to manage their land in a more pollinator-friendly way.

So growers will continue to be increasingly reliant on honeybees to do a job once performed by a host of different insects. Their profits now hinge as much on honeybees' availability to pollinate fields as they do on the sun and rain. This is why there is such urgency in solving the mystery of disappearing and dying bees.

This is not the first time that honeybees have disappeared. The first recorded unexplained loss was in the US 150 years ago and ever since large numbers have vanished at intervals throughout North America, Europe and Australia. An epidemic first reported on the Isle of Wight wiped out 90% of honeybee colonies in the UK at the beginning of the 20th century. Then, as now, the main suspects were deficiencies in the bees' diet, pollution in the environment, pests and parasites and mismanagement by beekeepers, but the killer was never identified.

When bees die, beekeepers can restock their hives quickly by buying a new queen who lays 2,000 eggs a day at her peak. Across the world, most have chosen to fill their apiaries with a type of honeybee renowned for its gentle nature and prodigious honey production skills. This race of bee, originally from Italy, now dominates beekeeping. The downside is that the honeybee gene pool has been diminished and with it traits that may have helped bees fend off mites and other parasites, such as a new fungal bacteria, Nosema ceranae, that attacks its gut.

There are fears that mites are becoming increasingly resistant to chemicals administered by beekeepers to kill them. Pettis says we are controlling too many bee ailments with drugs and a more organic approach is needed that includes stocking apiaries with locally reared bees better adapted to local climate and environmental conditions.

Meanwhile scientists are hoping to use the mapping of the honeybee genome to engineer in the laboratory a super bee that has the resilience to withstand varroa but retains all the qualities of the Italian bee. Biologists will tell you, however, that it will be only a matter of time before a super bee breeds a super parasite. Geneticists also discovered that honeybees have fewer genes providing resistance to disease than other insects. In particular, the number of genes responsible for detoxification appear to be smaller, making it unusually sensitive to pesticides and poisons. Its large-scale disappearance across the US and high death rates in Europe are signalling that industrialised farming makes demands on honeybees that are not sustainable.

Central Valley has been described as a big brothel where billions of honeybees from all over the US can pick up a contagious illness and take it home. It's spread by mites from infected to healthy colonies. And there are plans to expand Central Valley's almond orchards to the point where, by 2011, they will require 1.6 million honeybee colonies for pollination.

Despite around a third of all US honeybees being wiped out last year, and again this year after beekeepers had restocked their hives, the almond pollination has yet to suffer. Why?

There are two answers. The shortage of honeybees has pushed up the price of hive rentals for almond pollination to an all-time high of $140 per hive, so more and more beekeepers are making the trip west, and the Almond Board's requirement of two hives each containing 20,000-30,000 bees per acre to pollinate the almonds is excessive, but provides a buffer should some of the hives be empty.

As the sun rises over the almond orchards after another nocturnal delivery of east coast hives, Hackenberg says it's only the money that brings him and his waning bees to California each year. "I'd rather be back in Florida with my bees. They'd be feeding on the maple and willow. It's paradise down there. Why would anyone come to this godforsaken place? But something's got to pay the bills. I'm here for a $150,000 cheque."


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Beemergency! A mystery plague threatens Britain's bees and the result could be worse than foot and mouth

By Vince Cable

Nothing better illustrates the folly of this Government than the clumsy and ignorant way it has casually slashed the tiny budget supporting research into one of Nature’s most useful creatures: the bee.

The news is currently dominated by the bigger issues of oil prices and house prices.

But it is often in the apparently obscure detail of Government policy that we can best see where its values and priorities lie.


A mystery plague is threatening Britain's bees, and the result could be worse than foot and mouth

Bees matter. And not just for honey. When they are collecting nectar to make honey they spread pollen, which fertilises many of our garden flowers and useful fruits. Apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, broad and runner beans depend on them. They are the unpaid workers whose labour supports many an orchard or garden.

On the narrowest calculation, they help produce £165million a year of marketed products.

Yet unthinking human activity is doing considerable harm. Britain’s bumblebee population has been drastically reduced.

One factor is the use of dangerous insecticides in agriculture. These break down the bees’ orientation and communication skills and impair their memory.

Bees travel many miles for nectar and use a complex language of dances to point to the location of flowers. Without their inbuilt navigation they can’t find their way back to the hive.

Honey bees are also in a battle for survival with parasites. Professional beekeepers transport their hives across country – which contributes to the spread of parasites such as varroa.

This leeching mite has virtually destroyed the wild honey bee population. It activates lethal viruses which it carries from bee to bee as it feeds on their blood. It is like a dirty syringe spreading HIV and is probably causing more damage than foot-and-mouth disease.

But bees, unlike livestock, do not have powerful commercial interests to support them. As a result, a vital link in the natural chain that makes these islands what they are could vanish.

Three native bumblebee species have already disappeared and seven more are at serious risk. Our crops are under threat and any further decline would seriously damage the rural economy.

Clovers and vetches – which play a key role in keeping soil fertile – and some rare plants may disappear and, according to some experts, are doing so already. The result would be catastrophic for the future of farming itself.

Britain’s 44,000 beekeepers are not very commercially minded. Like the bees, they work largely for free. I came to understand what was happening only when I visited an apiary tucked away in a quiet corner of my Twickenham constituency.

Volunteers tend the hives and manage the swarms because they love their hobby. Simple common sense and national self-interest suggest that the Government should support some research into bees and their diseases.

Before recent cuts, it spent £1.25million on bee health, of which less than a fifth was for research. The Government thus spends less than one per cent, at most, of bees’ value to the economy.

And it is swamped by the massive £3.2billion budget of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA.

Yet a succession of Labour Ministers, from the invisible Mrs Beckett to the voluble Mr Benn via the ambitious Mr Miliband, have devoted their considerable energies to finding cuts in the tiny bee-health programme, axing 20 per cent – £250,000.

Researchers are being laid off. Ministers have sacked half of the bee inspectors whose job it was to identify and treat European Foul Brood, one of the worse parasite infections affecting hives.

Many people will be puzzled that a Government struggles with minuscule spending commitments when it can whistle up £25billion to rescue a failing bank and will find something approaching that to support a three-week festival of running and spear-throwing in 2012.

It has already devoted £6billion to the Iraq War.

This Government is penny-pinching and pound profligate. It squanders vast sums of taxpayers’ money on prestige projects or mega disasters, then tries to balance the books by petty cuts it hopes no one will notice.

In the bureaucratic infighting around the Government’s budget, tens of thousands of NHS staff, scientists, people in the arts world and local community projects are discovering that – like the bees – they may be doing invaluable, irreplaceable work but Ministers regard them as dispensable.

The battle over the DEFRA budget tells us much about this Government and its priorities.

Several years ago, the totally mad EU Common Agricultural Policy was reformed to be less mad but more complicated. DEFRA made a complete mess of the changeover to Single Farm Payments, overspending by hundreds of millions of pounds.

The money could not be retrieved from the farmers, so Gordon Brown’s Treasury decided to cut the excess from the rest of the DEFRA budget. Essential flood defence work was stopped. Funding was cut for environmental work.

Elderly people lost access to grants to insulate their homes. The bees were at the end of a long line of casualties.

When I first threw my modest weight behind the bee four years ago, I was singled out for criticism by Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions.

He was echoed a few weeks later by Gordon Brown, attacking my irresponsible approach to public spending. I thought at the time that I might have hit a raw nerve. I now realise their ridicule was based on incomprehension.

Stewardship of Nature – protection of the natural environment – is a concept the two most powerful men in the country simply do not understand. They are ignorant, and proud of it.

So far, the public has not noticed the cuts. Perhaps it never will. The price of honey is unlikely to have the same impact as the price of oil. And bees do not elicit the love we bestow on cuddlier creatures.

Indeed, they pack a vicious sting; my wife is one of many who could suffer a fatal anaphylactic shock unless treated immediately.

By contrast, had ponies, cats, dogs, badgers or foxes been put at risk, there would have been a national outcry to save them.

Perhaps, if sentiment cannot save the bee programme, sound economics will. Most early civilisations valued bees; the Greeks and Romans in particular.

Many developing countries are introducing hives and beekeeping techniques to boost the income of peasant farmers.

Other developed countries are investing in research, while we retrench. Without proper research, it is difficult to quantify the scale of bees’ decline absolutely.

But what is known is troubling. There are 270,000 hives in Britain. Last winter one in five colonies perished. Half of Italy’s 50billion honey bees died last year. The picture is similarly bleak across France, Germany, Brazil and Australia.

And nobody quite knows why. American fruit growers have lost billions due to a phenomenon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, first reported in 2006.

CCD has wiped out close to two million colonies across America and billions of bees worldwide.

We need bees. Einstein was said to have calculated: ‘If bees disappeared off the surface of the globe then Man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more life.’

One of the earliest economics texts ever written was Mandeville’s Fable Of The Bees, a satire on greed. The author had noticed that, in nature, not every creature is programmed simply to fight for survival.

Some, notably bees, also unselfishly perform a public service from which others benefit.

The Fable has been used to justify raising taxes so governments can perform useful tasks we could not perform as individuals.

Many taxpayers believe this Government has brought the civilised arguments for taxation into disrepute; and nowhere more obviously than in the way it has shouldered aside the tiny but invaluable bee health programme to help pay for its grander follies.


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Wow! :rofl: You know, that makes interesting reading... I actually feel bad for enjoying my honey butties now :stoned:

The concept of "battery" bees, which is what they sound like to me ...is awful :wink: Being transported constantly, unable to fly at will.....It quite horrifies me, especially as I am a keen almond eater. No wonder almonds are getting cheaper to buy?

Forgive my ignorance but I just never thought of bees as being so threatened!

A local bee keeping association..mmmm a good point to start. I shall be trying to find my local one over the next few days, this really has caught my interest :spliff: Thanks Joolz for info...

Ms Powerband :yahoo:

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"I thought at the time that I might have hit a raw nerve. I now realise their ridicule was based on incomprehension.

Stewardship of Nature – protection of the natural environment – is a concept the two most powerful men in the country simply do not understand. They are ignorant, and proud of it."

Sadly too true, but I fancy their incomprehension covers a wide variety of subjects!!.

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Stung By Bees

A mysterious ailment of honeybees threatens a trillion-dollar industry and an essential source of nutrition.

For 3,000 years, farmers in China's Sichuan province pollinated their fruit trees the old-fashioned way: they let the bees do it. Flowers produce nectar that attracts bees, which inadvertently transfer sticky grains of pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing them so they bear fruit. When China rapidly expanded its pear orchards in the 1980s, it stepped up its use of pesticides, and this age-old system of pollination began to unravel. Today, during the spring, the snow-white pear blossoms blanket the hills, but there are no bees to carry the pollen. Instead, thousands of villagers climb through the trees, hand-pollinating them by dipping "pollination sticks"—brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters—into plastic bottles of pollen and then touching them to each of the billions of blossoms.

China's use of human bees is only one of many troubling signs of an agricultural crisis in the making. Bees the world over have been dying from a mysterious syndrome termed colony collapse disorder, or CCD. U.S. beekeepers lost 35 percent of their hives this winter, after losing 30 percent the previous year. Similar but less well-publicized losses have occurred in countries as far-flung as Canada, Brazil, India and China, as well as throughout Europe. A recent survey of wild-bee populations in Belgium and France found that 25 percent of species have declined in the past 30 years. Several species of bumblebees common in the United States as recently as 1990 have disappeared. In Britain, the British Beekeepers Association has warned that honeybees could disappear entirely from the island by 2018, along with £165 million worth of apples, pears, canola and other crops they pollinate.

The threat is vast. Most crops—87 of the world's 115 most important ones—require pollination to develop fruits, nuts and seeds, says agroecologist Alexandra-Maria Klein at Germany's University of Göttingen. Those crops account for about $1 trillion of the approximately $3 trillion in annual sales of agricultural produce worldwide. They also provide 35 percent of the calories consumed by humans each year, and most of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Every blueberry, cherry, apple, grapefruit, avocado, squash, cucumber, macadamia nut and almond depends on the ministrations of a bee for its existence. Even crops such as lettuce and broccoli need insect pollination to produce seed for the following year's supply.

Colony-collapse disorder is characterized by the sudden collapse of a full-strength hive in a matter of weeks, with adults leaving the hive and not returning, until the hive is deserted. "I found colonies that had just stopped living," says Borje Svensson, a Swedish beekeeper. "They had given up life without any sign of struggle." No one knows what causes it, but theories abound. U.S. researchers believe a previously little-known disease called Israeli acute paralysis virus is involved, while Spanish researchers suspect a fungus called Nosema. When France lost a third of its bees in the 1990s, beekeepers blamed Imidacloprid, a new pesticide that had been used on the sunflower crop, a honeybee favorite. France banned the use of Imidacloprid on sunflowers in 1999 and expanded the ban to other crops in 2004, yet its bees have not recovered. Despite this ambiguous evidence, many beekeepers around the world continue to blame Imidacloprid—the best-selling pesticide in the world, with annual sales of nearly $860 million. Others have pointed fingers at malefactors ranging from cell phones to genetically modified crops, with little evidence. The leading theory is that colony collapse is caused by a combination of viruses, pesticides, the parasitic varroa mite, drought and stress triggered by commercial colonies' overwork and poor nutrition.

The meta-culprit is the shift to large-scale agriculture. When most farms were small family affairs, pollinators came from nearby wildlands. But the growth of massive industrial farms has put most crops out of the reach of wild insects. So farmers need to supply artificially large numbers of bees to pollinate their fields in the spring. The European honeybee is the only pollinator that fits the bill: adapted for dense living in tree hollows, it takes naturally to man-made wooden hives, making it the only bee that comes in convenient boxes of 50,000 that can be trucked from crop to crop. Wild insects such as bumblebees and tropical flies still account for 15 percent of pollination, including crops such as cacao (chocolate). Yet these wild insects are declining worldwide due to loss of habitat and increased pesticide use. Farmers the world over now rely almost completely on the European honeybee, one of 20,000 species of bees. Many beekeepers now make more money from pollination fees than from honey production.

The lack of bees has reached crisis proportions in California's Central Valley. Almonds, for years the most profitable crop in the state, expanded in acreage from 550,000 in 2005 to 615,000 in 2007, and are expected to reach 800,000 by 2010. These high-density plantations require more than two hives per acre—which means a bumper crop of almonds will soon call for nearly 2 million hives of bees. That's as many bees as currently exist in the entire United States, yet just a third of what existed 60 years ago.

Paying for those bees has sapped almond growers' profits. Joe Traynor, a "pollination broker" who matches almond growers who need bees with beekeepers looking to rent out their hives in the Central Valley, has watched the cost of pollination soar in recent years. "When I started in 1960, the price for honeybee rentals was $3 per hive. In 2004 it was $60 per hive. This year it was $160 to $180 per hive." Those runaway prices have made pollination expenses spiral to 20 percent of a California almond farmer's annual budget—more than fertilizer, water or even labor. In 2008, for the first time, the price for almonds fell below growers' cost of production. "They're really caught in the middle," says Traynor. "It's getting to be more and more of a hardship."

Because crops are now global commodities, their prices are set by the world market; farmers can't easily pass on cost increases to consumers. Instead, as their profits disappear, they go out of business or switch to more profitable crops. That reckoning day may soon come for almonds and many other bee-dependent crops. According to Bernard Vaissière, a pollination specialist with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, we wouldn't even know if we were currently experiencing reduced yields due to suboptimal pollination, because there is no previous baseline to measure against. "Insect pollination has been totally overlooked as a production factor in Europe until very recently," he says. "Pollinators were taken for granted, just like the air and the light. So if there is a yield loss, it will be attributed to anything but pollination deficit. But there has been a definite increase in pollination-rental fees in many parts of France." Prices of many of the major insect-pollinated crops have soared in recent years. Farmers manage to get their crops pollinated, but at greater expense.

Governments have done little to solve the problem. In June 2007 the U.S. House of Representatives held an emergency hearing on the status of pollinators in North America and allotted $5 million to honeybee research in the ensuing farm bill, but the funding was cut a year later. Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Agriculture made $4 million available to a consortium of universities for research. On April 22, calling on the British government to provide £8 million in emergency funding, British Beekeepers Association president Tim Lovett said, "CCD has not yet crossed the channel from Europe, but we are urging the government that it needs to be prepared should this happen. Does the government want the nation to go without honey on their toast, not have homegrown strawberries to go with cream, and even put their own crusade for the public to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables at risk?" Jeff Rooker, Britain's Food and Farming minister, responded that the government didn't have the funds to help.

That leaves beekeepers scrambling to keep the world in fruits and vegetables. "We can't stand another bug or virus or pest," says Mark Brady, president of the American Honey Producers Association. "Right now the industry is like crystal. It's that fragile. One slip and it will shatter."


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A sort of addon to J's post:-


Sierra Club Wants Treatments stopped, NOW!

From Alan Harman

The Sierra Club accuses the U.S. Department of Agriculture of caving in to lobbyists over massive bee deaths and compares this with Germany taking a major step to keep their bees pollinating crops.

In light of the mounting evidence that new seed chemical coatings are deadly to bees and action by Germany calling for their immediate suspension, the Sierra Club reaffirmed its call for a U.S. moratorium on specific chemical treatments to protect our bees and crops until more study can be done.

It cites Germany's federal agricultural research institute as saying, "It can unequivocally be concluded that poisoning of the bees is due to the rub-off of the pesticide ingredient clothianidin from corn seeds."

At issue are the neonicotinoids, including clothianidin, being used in a new way - as seed coatings.

For years, farmers have been spraying neonicotinoids onto their crops to stop insect infestation. Now Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto have acquired patents to coat their proprietary corn seeds with these neonicotinoids.

"Part of the equation in the U.S. is genetically engineered corn, as more and more corn seeds are being gene spliced with a completely different species -- a bacterium," says Walter Haefeker of the German Beekeepers Association Board of Directors. "Bayer and Monsanto recently entered into agreements to manufacture neonicotinic-coated genetically engineered corn. It's likely that this will worsen the bee die-off problem."

A Sierra Club statement says American Beekeeping Federation former president David Hackenburg has been urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do more study.

"Look at what's time based," it quotes Hackenburg as saying. "The massive bee decimation started when regulatory agencies rubber stamped the use of neonicotinoid spraying and coating."

Sierra Club genetic engineering committee chairman Laurel Hopwood says the club joins the concern of beekeepers.

"It's unfortunate that regulatory agencies are using double speak," he says. "They claim to protect our food supply - yet they aren't doing the proper studies. The loss of honeybees will leave a huge void in the kitchens of the American people and an estimated loss of $14 billion dollars to farmers. We call for a precautionary moratorium on these powerful crop treatments to protect our bees and our food."

This message brought to you by Bee Culture, The Magazine Of American Beekeeping www.BeeCulture.com

Subscribe to the Apis Newsletter http://apis.shorturl.com

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my neighbor up ther allotments keeps bees and he has lost two hives to CCD .. i find it amazing that the goverment is cutting back funding into research in this area .. er actually i dont find it amazing at all .. the fuckwits who are running this country would struggle to run a piss up in a brewery IMO .. :!: lol:rofl:

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Enjoyed reading that and will research it further Thanks! 908

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Heres a story about 12,000,000 bees involved in a lorry crash..



Edited by sibannac

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12 Million :alien2: Bees :stoned:

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Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?

Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious 'colony collapse' of bees

By Geoffrey Lean and Harriet Shawcross

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Related Articles

The Big Question: Why are honey bees disappearing, and what can be done to save them?

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It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world's harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world - the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon - which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe - was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when a hive's inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. The parasites, wildlife and other bees that normally raid the honey and pollen left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near the abandoned hives.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London's biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned.

Other apiarists have recorded losses in Scotland, Wales and north-west England, but the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted: "There is absolutely no evidence of CCD in the UK."

The implications of the spread are alarming. Most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees. Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

No one knows why it is happening. Theories involving mites, pesticides, global warming and GM crops have been proposed, but all have drawbacks.

German research has long shown that bees' behaviour changes near power lines.

Now a limited study at Landau University has found that bees refuse to return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Dr Jochen Kuhn, who carried it out, said this could provide a "hint" to a possible cause.

Dr George Carlo, who headed a massive study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles in the Nineties, said: "I am convinced the possibility is real."

The case against handsets

Evidence of dangers to people from mobile phones is increasing. But proof is still lacking, largely because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up.

Most research on cancer has so far proved inconclusive. But an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side as they held the handset.

Equally alarming, blue-chip Swedish research revealed that radiation from mobile phones killed off brain cells, suggesting that today's teenagers could go senile in the prime of their lives.

Studies in India and the US have raised the possibility that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts. And, more prosaically, doctors have identified the condition of "text thumb", a form of RSI from constant texting.

Professor Sir William Stewart, who has headed two official inquiries, warned that children under eight should not use mobiles and made a series of safety recommendations, largely ignored by ministers.

Edited by grandad

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Heres a story about 12,000,000 bees involved in a lorry crash..




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so this guy pimps his bees out to areas of nectar paradise such as apples, cherries and almonds, as a business. and as a service to nature.

then when they dont return home to his shitty factory ranch where they get scooped up with thermos flask cups, funnelled into containers, transported 1000's of miles in juggernauts, and generally messed around with. or even dissected...

he blames it on some virus or pesticide poisoning.

summat tells me that these bees dont like this fella and they are all doin' a flyer

getting stung 120 times a day does not just come with the job, surely ?

its a sign and he should take note before its too late.

dont fuck around with bees cos they can kill ya :spliff::smoke:

is there such a thing as bee-sting induced psychosis ?

however useful bees may be, they can't lay a double-yolker :ouch:

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:spliff: I think if I had 120 bees trying to sting me I might possibly lay a double yolker, though. Just not one you'd want on a fried egg butty.

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