British beekeepers are reporting an increasing number of hive thefts, which suggests that thieves are targeting honeybees to sell on an apian black market.

Earlier this month, thieves broke into Common Farm in Staffordshire and stole 18 hives—about 800,000 bees worth up to £6,000. Bee farmer Richard Lindsey kept the bees in hives on a strawberry farm, where they were used to pollinate the strawberry crop as well as to provide honey.

Mr Lindsey says: ‘It’s soul-destroying. I went to check on the hives and all that was left were the stands.

‘It must have been someone in the trade. You would need equipment to load them onto a truck and they’re not easy to lift. And you would have to know what you were doing—if you drop them or let them out, you’d get badly stung without protection.

‘It will cost me £6,000 to replace them, and that’s without taking into account the loss of breeding stock I had. And I’ve lost the honey crop off them this year, which was worth £50 per hive at least.’

The value of honeybees has increased recently because of a dramatic reduction in the population, due to diseases caused by the varroa mite, and wet summers. Two-thirds of bees in London are estimated to have died this winter.

Mr Lindsey believes there is definitely a lucrative black market: ‘Bees aren’t identifiable and the demand for them from beginners far outweighs supply.’

John Howat, secretary of the Bee Farmers’ Association, says: ‘The increase in demand for hives from the public following all the press coverage about bees over the past year, together with the very high prices now being demanded due to shortages, has prompted this spate of thefts.

‘Worryingly, it’s obvious that whoever is doing it has experience in keeping and moving bees. I always thought we beekeepers were a small but honest crowd.’

Mr Howat advises beekeepers to mark or brand hives to make them more identifiable.

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