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Colony numbers over the last 20 years?

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Poly Hive 

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I keep being told that due to all sorts of terrible combinations of events, mainly chemical that bee numbers were dropping drastically.

Pondering over this I wonder if the obvious has been over looked.

When I started in 1987, there were many older farm workers, and or people of a rural back ground who were coming to the end of their working lives. For some that meant moving into towns to live as their houses were "tied" to the job on the farm. They stopped their beekeeping as a result. Obviously this had an effect on the numbers of bees being kept.

The number of Bee Farmers also was dropping mainly as a result of nitrogen usage and the loss of permanent pasture enabling flows from those fields which no longer produce as they are now being more heavily managed for grass.

Of course there is no mileage in this theory for the dramatists and those with the political axe to sharpen, but I suspect there is at the least some mileage in my thoughts here.

PH
 

johnandyrob 

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Farmers seem to cut their hedges shorter not giving them a chance to flower any more
 

oliver90owner 

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I would not be counting managed colonies, but natural colonies.

After all, one might be able to keep bees close to the north and south poles but naturally they would not colonise those areas themselves.

Feral, by the dictionary indicates 'wild, after escape form captivity'.

By now, after varroa, there would be few naturally wild colonies. We have already killed off all, or very nearly all, of the natural wild colonies which existed, quite happily and productively, before the advent of varroa.

Another of man's veritable achievements, no doubt. There is a clear example of human interference for you. Remove/reduce/change the natural habitat, introduce new poisons and import exotic diseases and pests. Good old homo sapiens.

No need to look at saving rainforests, from afar. The ecological destruction is happening on our own doorsteps.

Regards, RAB
 

Heather 

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Have to say, in Sussex, the message is getting through. Hedges left longer and verges not cut. Loads of lovely wild flowers this year. Long may it last.

And Poly- do you reckon those old farm workers would have been meticulous in varroa control... Would colonies die out anyway if they still were keeping them. It is the new keepers who are keen to learn that will turn the tide of bee health.
Knowledge is growing and that can only be good.
 

Roy S 

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I've often thought along the same lines. Over the last 25 years or so, the numbers of beekeepers in our local association had dropped dramatically mainly due to the average age of members being shall we diplomatically say "in their twilight years". The introduction of varroa to these shores meant that most if not nearly all bee colonies around were man managed, and as beekeepers have given up, died or whatever, I think the numbers of colonies had declined as a result.

Over the last 4 years or so the number of members has really taken off again, and all new members as far as I know have been able to obtain bees either through association members or other suppliers no problem.

So yes PH, I am also beginning to wonder if the so called decline in bees numbers was more likely to be accelerated by declining beekeeper numbers.

Time will tell eh?
 
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Poly Hive 

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Heather?

Varroa arrived in my old area quite late on and not too sure of dates now but I would have thought about 1998 or so? Possibly even later. And on checking find it to be 2001. A lot of the old brigade had given up by then and some just ahead of it so as to sell of their bees in case it was the disaster it was claimed to be. Even Steele and Brodie stopped trading in fear of it.

Yes varroa has killed of the so called feral colonies, not that I was in fact even thinking of them, but how many of them were self perpetuating? Very few I suspect and most likely were in fact resupplied by errant swarms every other year or so depending on over wintering.

I just wonder how much of this famous decline is/was due to the human factor.

http://www.spanglefish.com/dingwallbeekeepers/index.asp?pageid=41514 Just found this which may or may not interest those who poo poo the climate effect I go on about. Scroll down for the winter information...

PH
 

Chris B 

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PH,
what is telling is the stats being peddled. "The bee population has halved in the last 20 years" = number of colonies managed by beekeepers from 1985 to 2005. How convenient to cut off at the very point when beekeeper population started to rise again. Feral colonies have never been included in the stats.
What really makes me laugh is the add-on statement "and nobody knows why".

Of course nobody really wants to talk about the actual number of managed colonies, because EU funding depends upon the exagerrated figure of 274k.
 

Juststarting 

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Chris B - can you clarify what EU funding you are refering to?

"Of course nobody really wants to talk about the actual number of managed colonies, because EU funding depends upon the exagerrated figure of 274k."
 

Chris B 

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The EU has an annual budget to support apiculture. I don't remember the exact figure but many millions of euros. The cash is allocated to each member state according to it's proportion of the total EU bee population. In it's wisdom our UK government uses all the funds to run the National Bee Unit.
Doing the maths, BBKA claims to represent the vast majority of UK beekeepers: 18000 members averaging 4 colonies = 72,000 colonies. Only 4 or 5 years ago BBKA had less than 10000 members = 40,000 colonies. Even allowing for the Scots and a relatively small number of unaffiliated beekeepers, 274000 colonies sounds like a gross exaggeration, and this is the official figure in use for years. You won't get anyone at DEFRA or BBKA HQ to admit a realistic estimate of the bee population because it could lead to a drastic cut in EU funds.
(Did I once read Spain had 4 million colonies? Are they exaggerating too?)
 

Juststarting 

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Thanks it always good to know where the money goes - even if you cant get your hands on it!

It probably explains why the rural development grants exclude bees and hives from funding (EU policy).
 
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and a relatively small number of unaffiliated beekeepers
The estimate I've heard is only half the beekeepers in England are members of the BBKA. I certainly know of quite few. Add the Scots, Northern Irish (less INIB), Welsh and the estimate for the total number of owned colonies in the UK is probably not widely out.
 

Chris Luck 

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Now here's something I think we can broadly agree on PH.

We also read things like ""As a result, France has had to import up to 24,000 tons of honey annually." with regard to "bee losses", but the reality is exactly the same here, fewer bee-keepers AND cheap imports to stock the supermarket shelves making the job not practical. France may well import a large quantity of honey, but it exports a huge quantity as well. In this region the trucks come form Germany to collect the 300 and 500kg drums from the professionals and collectives.

Of course, as you know, I think the "other factors" are oversold as well.

Generally, and I work in wildlife, I would say the situation with honey bees is relatively OK if their are sufficient keepers and where possible bees are allowed to swarm, those that aren't captured will re-enforce the feral or wild population. Strictly all bees are wild, even when manipulated they could hardly be called "domestic".

Hedgerows have been lost in France, hundreds of thousands of kilometres and this must have an impact - especially the loss of bramble, a very important food source. Otherwise there isn't a shortage of trees in most of France and there are the modern crops of OSR and sunflowers.

A bit of shock and horror and another gravy train is set in motion which provides a better living for a lot of people than the practice of Bee keeping.

Chris
 

oliver90owner 

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Chris,

Strictly all bees are wild, even when manipulated they could hardly be called "domestic".

Perhaps the word natural, to differentiate between basically feral colonies and those managed by beekeepers, would yield very different results for the decline statistics.

Regards, RAB
 

Poly Hive 

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To be honest Rab whether you call them feral or natural I honestly think most came from inside a hive.

PH
 

Chris Luck 

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Has anyone got any figures for how many colonies there were in the UK in the 40's, 50's, 60's etc? Or for that matter even earlier?

As a child in Surrey I never saw any bee hives and never knew of any bee-keepers and if there had been any within a few miles of where I lived I would have seen them.

The question is: Are there more or less bee colonies today than 50 or 100 years ago?

Chris
 

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The National bee Unit has records going back many years.

At some point in the late 80's/early 90's they changed the way they collect the data so todays figures are not strictly comparable with those in the good old days.

I only know this because it was mentioned at a talk I attended given by one of their scientists.
 

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