Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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Jane Kennedy launches plan to halt declining Bee numbers

Jane Kennedy launches plan to halt declining Bee numbers

DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS News Release (News Release ref: 52/09) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 9 March 2009

Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government have today published 'Healthy Bees', a plan to protect and improve the health of honey bees in England and Wales.

The ten year plan was drafted in consultation with beekeeping organisations and aims to sustain honey bee populations by supporting beekeepers to ensure effective biosecurity measures are adopted to minimise risk from pests and disease.

This follows an investment of an extra £4.3 million to gather more information from beekeepers and undertake more research into the health of bees, announced by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn in January. Of this, £2 million over five years will contribute to a new research programme on pollinators, which is currently being developed with other funding partners.

The first stage of the plan will attempt to identify and make contact with perhaps as many as 20,000 amateur beekeepers to make sure that they are aware of the need to alert the National Bee Unit (NBU) to bee health problems and encourage them to register on BeeBase, its beekeepers database. This will help ensure that any new or existing health problems are identified.

The last two years have seen recorded losses of between 10 to 15 per cent in bee numbers although it is possible that real losses are significantly higher due to the number of beekeepers not in contact with the NBU.

Honey bees contribute directly to local food production and make an important contribution, through pollination, to improving the yield of some crops. They are susceptible to a variety of disease and environmental threats, some of which have increased significantly over the last five to 10 years.

Launching the plan today, Environment Minister Jane Kennedy said:

"Bees are just about the most hard working of insects. They help put food on our plates as they produce honey and pollinate other plants, many of which produce food themselves. We need to do all we can to safeguard the health of honey bees. This plan is a blueprint for doing that.

"The first step is to improve our contacts with all beekeepers so that we can ensure they take advantage of the free inspection and diagnostic services that the bee unit and its dedicated team of inspectors and scientists provide.

"That will help us pick up existing and emerging bee health problems and deal with them effectively."

The plan describes the five main things we want to achieve, working with individual beekeepers, their associations and other stakeholders. These are:

1. To keep pests, diseases and other hazards to the lowest levels achievable.

2. To promote good standards of husbandry to minimise pest and disease risks and contribute to sustaining honey bee populations - prevention is better than cure.

3. To encourage effective biosecurity to minimise risk from pests, diseases and undesirable species.

4. To ensure that sound science underpins bee health policy and its implementation.

5. To get everyone to work together on bee health.

The plan also identifies the distinct roles and responsibilities of Government, beekeepers, their associations and other stakeholders in achieving these aims. A strengthened partnership, involving all interested parties, is essential if current and evolving threats to bee health are to be successfully identified and addressed.

Action to implement the plan will now be taken forward in consultation with beekeepers' representatives.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. 'Healthy Bees' is available online at http://www.defra.gov.uk/hort/Bees/wnew.htm.

2. 'Healthy Bees' was launched after public consultation. Details of the consultation can be found: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/bee-health/index.htm

3. Defra recently announced new funding to help implement the plan. See the details: http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2009/090121a.htm

4. The NBU maintains a voluntary database of active beekeepers called BeeBase. Beekeepers that are not registered with BeeBase are strongly encouraged to get in touch with the NBU online at https://secure.csl.gov.uk/beebase/ or on 01904 462510. Registration is free and provides the beekeeper with a free visit from their local bee inspector and access to a wide range of information on their craft.

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