So 2016 is coming to an end – and what a challenging year it has been, what with poor honey harvests across the UK, the derogation of the neonicotinoid ban by Parliament and the discovery of the presence of the Asian Hornet in the UK.
The poor honey harvest was the result of many factors. First there was the cold, damp Spring allowing the bees to expand in their hives without being able to be inspected, resulting in many colonies swarming. Then there was the dearth of early nectar at a time when colonies were looking after large brood-nests, meaning in many cases that the bees needed feeding and were unable to produce an excess Spring crop for the beekeeper.
By the time the Spring nectar flow started, the brood boxes were almost empty and the newly released nectar was going straight into the brood box rather than upstairs for the beekeeper! Then, when the brood boxes were replenished, the nectar flow stopped again and we were warned nationally of colonies on the brink of starvation. So again, we had to feed, until the main nectar flow – which again went straight into the brood boxes to make up the loss encountered during the dearth.
My own honey crop this year was about one fifth of that of last year, so very disappointing, though I have increased the number of colonies, some of which were passed on to others – and there is a saying amongst beekeepers that you can’t have a season that produces a large honey crop and an increase in colony numbers, so I can’t really complain. Anyway, next season is going to be fantastic!
Regarding the derogation of the neonicotinoid ban, the government has temporarily lifted this ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country. An EU-wide moratorium had been put in place after some studies showed these pesticides caused significant harm to bees. But following a second emergency application (the first one was denied) by the National Farmers Union, two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oilseed rape crop.
This is such bad news – what happened to the “precautionary principle” touted by the Government? If in doubt, don’t do it! Yes, the farmers have found it difficult to combat the pests on some of their crops but don’t they realise that without the honeybees they are not going to get their crops pollinated, thereby at best reducing yield or at worst getting no yield at all? How did they manage before neonicotinoids and before chemicals became part of the farming mantra? Naturally. Organically.
That’s what we are missing today, because all is in the name of profit (though not for the farmers, I hasten to add) and in the name of even greater production from a finite resource, an action forced on farmers by supermarkets and the chemical companies. We can’t go on like this. Nature is going to implode unless we get back to natural ways of doing things, rather than lining the pockets of those who seek short-term gains with no consideration for the long-term impact. Once the bees are gone, they are gone. We will all be living on a cereal-based diet if that happens – not very healthy for us if there is nothing else to eat. (End of rant – sorry!).
Moving on, the good news about the Asian Hornet is that the nest found in Tetbury has been destroyed and there were no other nests found in the vicinity. The nest is now being minutely examined to see if any of the cells it contains are those which could have borne queen hornets. If that turns out to be the case, then we have a big problem, because it would mean that those queens have emerged from the nest, mated, and hibernated in the locality, to emerge next Spring to establish several new colonies, which in turn will produce new queens at the end of next year and so on.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that an Asian Hornet colony can contain in the region of 20,000 hornets, far larger in number than a typical wasp or European Hornet nest, thereby making it a much greater threat to our honeybees than our indigenous species. The Asian Hornet found in a wasp trap north of the Mendips, on the other hand, turned out to be a one-off, with no nests having being sighted in the area. However, this begs the question as to how it got there in the first place. Time alone will tell whether the sighting is more sinister than currently appears to be the case.
No other sightings have been reported in the UK but we are all on our guard and on the lookout for those nests at great height amongst the greenery of evergreen trees. I beg all readers of this article to do the same, as spotting the nests early is the only chance we have of preventing the Asian Hornet from becoming wide-spread and decimating our bee populations – and if the Asian Hornet succeeds in wiping out our honeybee populations, we are back to the cereal diet that I referred to earlier.
So who’d be a beekeeper in this day and age? Well, I have just finished teaching my autumn course “An Introduction to Beekeeping” and it had almost the maximum number of students (14) that I will take (I limit the number to 15, to give enough time for the students to raise issues and have discussions about particular aspects of beekeeping that are of relevance to them. I could not do that if there were too many attendees).
Each one of these sounded as if they had every intention of becoming beekeepers. You can tell by the level of interest and the types of questions they ask. There is a thirst for knowledge which is gratifying to see and I look forward to seeing them become active members of our beekeeping community. I now await enrollees for the Spring course starting in January and hope to be able to recruit a similar number of “newbees”.
Colin Rees – 01872 501313 – firstname.lastname@example.org