What will 2010 bring for the honeybees? Well, initial indicators from the US are not good. Dave Hackenberg, the Pennsylvania beekeeper who discovered colony collapse disorder, speaking to me last month for an article in the New York Post said that his bees had dwindled earlier this winter than previous years.
“We had around 3,000 hives at the end of the summer, but they started shrinking early, so when we came to truck them to Florida [in December to get them ready for the almond pollination in California in February] there was only 2,000 of them left,” he told me.
He predicts that it could be the worst year yet for bee losses.
We’ll have a better idea from the US come February when half the nation’s 2.4m (if there are still that many) bee colonies arrive in California’s central valley.
If you think pesticides are the main culprit in the mysterious bee disappearance , you can take comfort from a ruling made by a US district judge just before Christmas. She ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind approval for a pesticide, spirotetramat, manufactured by Bayer AG, which campaigners say is harmful to bees. Although the ban is based on EPA processes rather than product safety - the judge said the EPA didn’t properly seek comments or publicise the review process - it is perhaps indicative of a shift in attitude towards the mightychemical companies and their federal bed fellows.
Jeff Pettis, head of bee research at the USDA, told the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America on 12 December, that new research into neonicotinoid pesticides showed that bees exposured to them didn’t die from the pesticides but ended up with three to four times as many spores of the potentially lethal fungal pathogen, Nosema ceranae. He also said that a comparison of hives trucked around the US verus stationary hives has found higher egg and larval losses in the transported colonies. Bees on the road also fail to mange their hive temperature at the necessary 34 degrees F. This could account for the loss of brood. So could this spell the end for migratory beekeeping. I think not?
The reason for the article in the New York Post, in case you were wondering, is that A World without Bees is now published in the States. It’s also been translated into German, where it is called ‘Welt ohne Bienen’.
Interest in what the public can do to save the bees continues. This month’s taster beekeeping courses run by UrbanBees are almost full.