Farming News - Scottish beekeepers receive funding to map honeybee health

Scottish beekeepers receive funding to map honeybee health

29 Oct 2013
Frontdesk / Arable


Beekeepers in Scotland have been awarded funding that will aid scientific study of bee population health across the country.


Funding has been made available to boost bee health monitoring in Scotland

Beekeepers have already helped discover the widespread presence of an important bee parasite in the UK for the first time, and now the scheme will be extended to paint a detailed picture of overall bee disease rates in Scotland.


Last year beekeepers from around Scotland worked with Dr Chris Connolly from the University of Dundee to identify possible spores from Nosema ceranae, which were later confirmed as such by DNA sequencing. The discovery is important because Nosema ceranae wasn't thought to be widespread in the UK, and has been implicated in causing disease and colony failure in bees.


Dr Connolly said, "To our amazement, we found that Nosema ceranae is actually not just present in Scotland, but is widespread. Some studies have suggested that Nosema ceranae leads to a dwindling disease and colony failure. Therefore it is critical to monitor its presence and association with colony losses in the UK."


Now that further grant money has been made available to the University of Dundee (by BBSRC), the University plans to extend its scheme to include screening for other parasites and mapping honeybee populations in Scotland, with help from Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA).


Bee populations are in decline across the Northern Hemisphere. The reasons for decline are believed to be complex and interrelated; disease, loss of habitat, climate change and the effects of certain pesticides are all thought to be affecting bee population health. Together with other insect pollinators, bees are worth an estimated £1.8 billion to the UK agriculture industry each year.  


Given the high failure rate of honeybee colonies seen in Scotland in 2012-13 (a record 31 percent of managed colonies failed to overwinter and 55 percent of wild colonies are thought to have died out over the same period) the project's funders at BBSRC and Dundee University said it is important to investigate whether particular threats correlate with honeybee losses.


Dr Connolly added on Tuesday, "Once this country-wide screening is in place, further training by SASA will be provided to enable beekeepers to screen for all disease threats to Scotland's honeybees. Once this large disease dataset is combined with information on local land use, pesticide exposure and honeybee colony failures it will become possible to report on the relative impact of all threats to the decline of our honeybees.


"Such a scale of evidence is not feasible without the support of beekeepers and can provide vital leads for future research. The response so far from beekeepers and SASA has been fantastic."