Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The bigger picture of honeybee decline

We all hear about honeybee, and other pollinator, declines and rightly want to find the causes so we can counter them. But I wanted to take a moment to explain the consequences of honeybee declines by putting beekeepers into the picture.

Honeybees can no longer survive for an extended period in the wild (feral colonies are almost non-existent in the UK since the mid 90s), and rely on beekeepers to manage parasites, disease, and the effects of other problems like pesticides. This means that they are precariously sustained by the ability of beekeepers to maintain colonies. The number of beekeepers and the number of colonies each beekeeper can maintain determines the total ecological carrying capacity of honeybee colonies.

Everything from equipment costs, to miticide treatments to kill varroa, to the cost of making up new colonies in order to make up for lost colonies, to reduced honey harvests, impacts the economy of the industry. When the economy of the industry is disrupted, the number of colonies each beekeeper can have, and even the number of beekeepers (as the costs of beekeeping can drive people out of the industry, from commercial to the humble hobbyist, or present an insurmountable barrier to entry).

This means that, on top of varroa and pesticides, et al., the biggest threat of all to the honeybee population may be a matter of economics. This is why we need the government to consider financial support or subsidies for beekeepers in the National Pollinator Strategy.