The Secret Death of Bees

Have you heard of CCD? If not, then you should have. It is a disease that is spreading and is causing an epidemic that if not contained and managed effectively is likely to cause nothing less than an agricultural catastrophe.

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This is not a new problem. In the UK the number of species of bees has fallen by half since the 1950s. But the complete disappearance of entire colonies is a phenomenon that was first globally reported on in 2007 and is known as CCD, (Colony Collapse Disorder). Year on year the number of bee colonies are in decline. Last year in the UK there was a 10% decline in the number of bee colonies, which is an improvement on the year before which saw a 34% loss. In North America, since 2006, migratory bee keepers have noted an annual 30% – 90% loss in bee colonies; while non-migratory keepers have noted a 50% decline.

Causes

There are a number of factors which are combining to cause the death of the bee. Pesticides, Genetically modified food and loss of habitat are the major factors which us as a species are contributing to loss of the bee colonies. This alongside disease caused by mites, means that it is now time for us as a species to stop taking action which is destructive to the bee and start conserving, managing and encouraging the growth of bee colonies.

Varroa Mite

The varroa mite is a parasitic mite, exclusive to bees, which feeds on the blood, and from which the bees have little to no natural defenses.
In the UK Varroa is currently in endemic status within England and Wales; and is widespread within Scotland and N. Ireland. It is not exclusive to the UK, or indeed to Europe. This is a global problem, and one that cannot be eradicated. It is therefore imperative that infested colonies continually maintain effective control of the parasite.

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Nosema

Nosema is a cold weather disease caused by microsporidian fungal parasitic pathogens that invade the digestive tracts and spread throughout and between hives, causing dysentery like symptoms.

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Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV)

A wide spread disease which causes infantile paralysis, killing 80-90% of infected bees.

Insecticides

Despite the fact that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have deemed the use of the pesticide Neonicotinoid as ‘unacceptable’ the FSA continue to allow its use. The pesticide is applied to seeds before they are planted and therefore is transported up the plants’ vascular system as it grows and remains present in the plants pollen and nectar, and is then passed onto the bees. It is also present in the soil and is having a detrimental effect on a number of affected species of bird.

Loss of Habitat

Urbanisation of natural environments directly removes the bees habitat. Furthermore, it fragments environments, causing foraging resources to be scattered and few and far between. This leads to nutritional stress in bees. The extra time and work the bee must expend in foraging leads to a decline in the quantity and quality of the honey produced.

The Result

With the human species poisoning the pollen and nectar, lowering the immune systems of the bees, as well as systematically destroying their habitats to make way for housing and retail developments; bees are increasingly at risk of the numerous diseases that have been sweeping through the colonies. These factors, while taken as isolated incidents, may appear to be fairly harmless. However, with all factors combined the result is Colony Collapse Disorder in epidemic proportions. The result of such a decline in bee colonies has the potential to be devastating to crops. This is happening right now and has been for many years. CCD should be as widely known about as global warming. We should be educated to do our bit, just as we are in regards to recycling these days. Councils should be supplying us with bee attracting plants and offering education and training to teach us how to attract bees to our gardens. If you think I am exaggerating then consider this quote:

‘ The fact is that of the 100 crop sources that provide 90% of the worlds food, over 70 are pollinated by bees’ – UN report.

While the page this quote was sourced from seemed less than sympathetic to the plight of the honey bee stating, in not so many words, that should bees become extinct it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and this is probably true; but it would be a world greatly changed. We would lose a large amount of our food sources, or have to work extremely hard to maintain them. What we need is to act now. We need to take the effort it would require to do a fraction of the work the honey bees perform and put that energy into taking steps to save the bees from extinction. I mean, can you really imagine a world with no honey???

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What can we do?

Anyone can help to do their bit. Plant bee attracting plants in your gardens.
Educate yourself, educate your kids. Be a friend of the honey bee. Find a local beekeeper and volunteer to help out or arrange talks for your club or your kids clubs. Or simply share this blog and others like it that you come across. Knowledge is power, sharing is caring! Spread the word and save the bees!

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