Decline in UK Hive Numbers?

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Poly Hive

Queen Bee
Dec 4, 2008
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Scottish Borders
Hive Type
Number of Hives
12 and 18 Nucs
I've been a bit mistifyed about this for a while now so this evening set out to find some figures.

No success.

anecdotal comments about "Government figures" stating a drop of 15%. I can't find these stats. I am not saying they don't exist I am just a bit suspicious that I canna find them easily.

On a slight tangent a 15% drop over winter in my book is pretty good wintering as I personally have lost as many as 40% in a bad Scottish winter and that was not unusual.

And so I am left pondering this. If associations are having a real surge in membership which is what I hear from all over, from Brighton to Aberdeen, how is it possible for the beekeeper numbers to rise dramatically and (I dangerously assume they have or get bees) consequent colony numbers fall?

Something is wrong here. Mind you good news sells no papers famously.

Personally my count has gone from 4 to 24. Not much of a drop really. LOL

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I think that one word sums up and aswers the question "Goverment", need I say more and their use of figures when it suits.
I am in the Southend Division,and we had twenty people wanting to do courses,and we had to restrict it to members of our division who were fully paid up,as we were being swamped from other divisions with in Essex.But it will be interesting to see how many actually take it up,listening to some I fear that they seem to think you put a tap at the bottom of the hive and the honey just pours out.
But yes I think that manipulatation of the figures certainly is going on.
We have two hives. I have decided against telling the government that we have them, otherwise they will probably introduce a bee tax.
I personaly am a great non beliver in main government anything, from what i have seen and read of late the usa bee industry is very affected but , that has started to be connected with over use of chemicals and the bees collecting enough to make an effect on thier wellfare, where or not that is the case i dont know, as for the uk market i have seen a very large surge of new beeks or people trying to become new beeks, this to me is very reminiscent to the one i was apart of in the late 70's with the john seymor and the good life craze, what i do rember more was the fall out after everyone lost interest, now where that craze ended quickly we will have to wait and see with this one
If associations are having a real surge in membership which is what I hear from all over, from Brighton to Aberdeen, how is it possible for the beekeeper numbers to rise dramatically and (I dangerously assume they have or get bees) consequent colony numbers fall?

Lots of reasons, some statistical, some bee husbandry, some disease related.

Beekeepers that ignore some/most of what they were taught, or try doing it from a book, or by just guessing, and then actively choose to not improve their knowledge, then there are those that can't recognise disease, and those that constantly crush bees when handling them, those that lose swarms, those that buy bees from here there and everywhere that don't always suit the local environment, those that requeen with imported queens more suited to a tropical or Mediterranean climate, fail to feed their bees properly for winter, and the ones that fail to treat for varroa properly.

For those that repeatedly lose swarms and casts, and with varroa being what it is, together with increased levels of old building renovation/demolition the feral colony survival rate is low, but maybe increasing.

But it all depends on your sampling interval. For instance while you might have an increase in colony numbers from say May to September each year with each influx of new beekeepers being supplied with nucs, by the next spring overall numbers might be back to 20% less than what they were the previous year and then those that lost their colonies now go out and buy new colonies, or acquire swarms from bad beekeepers. The result being that figures of colony loss are always meaningless when a single date is chosen for each year.

For an accurate picture you require at least a twice yearly colony count, say May and September, together with the number of 'external' acquisitions and losses. You also need a reasonable sample size, in each area and also across many areas, if you fail to satisfy all these criteria, then it's impossible to have an accurate representative indication of year on year losses
But it all depends on your sampling interval.

Absolutely right. But the only measure of an annual loss is over a 12 month interval, otherwise it simply isn't an annual loss.

The truth is the bee population has risen over the last 2 years. It's not rockets science. Take my own local branch for instance, we've doubled our membership. Existing members have made a modest increase in stocks, and all the new members represent a population gain. In spite of winter losses I can only think of 1 member with fewer colonies. At a rough guess our local bee population has risen by around 50% by colony count.
FWIW the only accurate count I can see that is reliable is the successful wintering count which is what you have left after winter is over and before you start to make increase.

As for the comments above re inappropriate strains of bee I am starting another thread on that matter.

Of course there is a possible reason why beekeeper numbers can rise and yet beehive numbers fall. Who is most likely to loose bees during a winter a less experienced beekeeper who went into winter with a recently acquired weekish colony or a experienced beekeeper with a large number of strong colonies.
The experiences of the members of our society would indicate it is of course the former though if this winter remains as mild as it is and the bees continue to fly we could see all beekeepers rushing to give additional feed in January as the flying bees continue to consume stores without any nectar being brought in.
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It is hive numbers we are discussing, which is what is claimed to have dropped.

I am surprised this thread has gone this far without someone correcting (rightly or wrongly) the term Hive numbers and that it should be colonies not hives, as that could refer to flat pack hives yet to be built!:svengo:
I am using the term "hive" in this context which I think has been pretty clear so far to refer to occupied hives.

I avoided the colony word as it could be misconstrued to include wild colonies which do not figure as it were in official figures.

Not nit picking just trying for clarity.

Yup but it is difficult to keep the language correct and not misleading.

I have mentally edited mine several times to try and keep it accurate.

That's good as I some times wonder myself what I mean.... back to the painting...

At a rough guess our local bee population has risen by around 50% by colony count.

I'd guess it's probably the same or even better across many areas of the UK, particularly around big cities where urban beekeeping is 'taking off' Getting a proper representative survey designed, financed and producing statistically significant results seems to be a problem.

I can't recall the exact wording of previous bbka surveys, but for anyone buying colonies or acquiring swarms, or spiltting for increase it gave results that bore no reflection to the reality of what was for one local master beekeeper 100% winter losses.
Averages innit?

Seemingly during the 2nd world war hive numbers rocketed.


Beekeepers got sugar off ration for the bees......LOL

Another useless piece of info.. as was the Resistance was fond of using hives as dead letter drops.. whether the individuals who collected them were as keen is another matter.... LOL

Sorry PH misunderstood. However, another possible reason might be that it is the older more experienced beekeepers who have lots of colonies that ar either giving up beekeeping totally or are reducing the colony numbers as their mobility or physical prowess fails.
Most societies n my experience have a wealth of members who are getting on in age,
Indeed the longer a member has been in a society the more likely he is to be regestered with beebase meaning that when his colonies decline this is more likely to noted, whilst at the other end of the scale newbeekeepers may yet not be registered on beebase and therefore there is a distortion of the data.
I am just offering possible scenarios.
It would be interesting to know what proportion of a societies membership was registered with beebase and if it was 50% of those attending a meeting I would be surprised and of that percentage I wonder how upto date the information would be as to what number of hives they have.
Yet another anomoly must be the number of beekeepers who are either not registered with any society (I know of at least 2 within a mile of me) or are a member of a society who is not affiliated with the BBKA or any other body.
Yes my feeling is that they stuck their proverbial finger up in the air and guessed.

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