The Government has announced a new £10-million research initiative to investigate the decline of bees and other insect pollinators, such as butterflies and moths.
Over the past two years, the number of bees in Britain has fallen by 15%. The decline has been blamed on climate change, in particular warmer winters and wetter summers, diseases such as colony collapse disorder and parasites such as the varroa mite.
Apart from the Government’s £2 million, the Pollinators Initiative funding comes from a number of major research bodies, including the Wellcome Trust, Scottish Government, the Natural Environment Research Council and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said: ‘With one in three mouthfuls coming from insect-pollinated crops, we need to support bees and other pollinators.
‘This funding will give some of Britain’s world-class researchers the chance to identify the causes of the decline we’re seeing in bee numbers, and that will help us to take the right action to help.’
But Britain’s only Professor of Apiculture, Prof Francis Ratnieks, expressed concern that the research money would be ‘diluted’ on other pollinators, rather than solely going to help bees.
Prof Ratnieks said: ‘There are more than 2,000 species of moths and butterflies and 250 species of bee in Britain. If this becomes a project aimed at funding 2,000 species, I fear the honeybee—which is a single species and the most important pollinator—may get a little left out.’
Tim Lovett, president of the British Beekeepers’ Association, said: ‘It is vital that these funds are committed to the work that can make a real difference and meet the challenges facing honeybees in this country.’
Honeybees play a vital role in putting food on our tables through the pollination of essential crops, and are worth an estimated £200 million a year to the UK economy.