Sunday, 2nd August 2009
New disease hits Scotland’s bees
The news that foulbrood disease has infected thousands of bee hives in Scotland has come as a devastating blow to an industry already struggling to cope with colony collapse disorder due to, amongst other things, the varroa mite.
Scotland’s beekeepers must now deal with European foulbrood (EFB), a disease which has rarely been seen in this country before.
It is estimated that up to 5000 bee colonies in Perthshire could be wiped out by European Foulbrood (EFB) following the last week’s announcement of a major outbreak at an apiary near Alyth in Perthshire.
Local beekeepers have expressed fury that Scottish government ministers dithered and delayed before issuing warnings or providing sufficient resources to fight the disease.
EFB is a fungal infection that attacks bee larvae causing them to starve to death and then rot, leaving a foul smelling odour in the affected hives. Left untreated it can wreak havoc though entire bee colonies.
Treatment methods are both costly and extreme, often involving the burning of hives and destruction of bees. The EU makes the regulatory approval of medicines so bureaucratic and expensive that suppliers have little option but to pass on the extra cost to the beekeepers. The more expensive these medicines become, the fewer beekeepers can afford to use them, allowing the disease to flourish.
Scottish beekeepers also blame mono-cultural farming for our disappearing bee population. The former rich, green pastures full of nectar-producing plants have in some parts of the country become cereal deserts. Cereal crops are pollinated by the wind forcing bees to look elsewhere for food. Without readily available food, bees become stressed and disease-prone.
Farmers in Canada have overcome this problem by planting beneficial crops in set-aside land in order to provide the valuable nectar that bees require.
Although a return to set-aside farmland is not the answer for the EU, we could reward farmers under existing environmental programmes and rural stewardship schemes, for doing the same thing. By sowing small strips of land with crops such as the exotic flower Phacelia, together with Borage, Charlock, Wild White Clover and other nectar-rich plants, we could create a haven not only for bees but for birds and other animals and insects. Small strips of land sown with these relatively cheap seeds would benefit bees and the whole ecosystem.
The loss of bees could be catastrophic. Bees do more than just make honey. They are a vital part of our ecosystem and are essential to our survival. Almost 70% of global food crops require pollination. Yet bees are dying out globally at an alarming rate.
Probably the most fundamental link in the food chain, the honey bee is fast becoming the weakest.