Honeybees are facing a multitude of enemies but a practical course looking at ways to combat one of the most common is open to beekeepers from across the South West when Somerset Beekeepers' Association's (SBKA) hold their first Development Day at Cheddar on Saturday, November 24.
The day of lectures and workshops at the Kings of Wessex Academy will examine ways to tackle the blood-sucking varroa mite, which weakens colonies and is responsible for wiping out most of the country's wild honeybee population.
Organiser Ken Tredgett said: "The varroa mite resembles something out of Alien, and will hitch a ride on its victims to seek out new hives to infect. Untold numbers of wild hives have been wiped out, meaning the honeybee is utterly dependent on humans for survival. Our inaugural development day will be the first of a new practical education programme to help beekeepers to learn how to keep their colonies as healthy as possible."
The Development Day will be led by Richard Ball, retired National Bee Inspector from the National Bee Unit. He will look at the effect of the mite on honeybees and examine methods of biological control. He is a beekeeper himself and is chairman of the Devon Apicultural Research Group.
In addition there will be four workshops in the afternoon led by Master Beekeepers including Ron Hoskins of Wiltshire. Ron has been breeding bees for more than 18 years to help themselves by actively fighting varroa without the aid of chemical intervention. The conclusion to his observations was that worker bees in the colony were detecting the sealed brood cells that were infested with breeding varroa, then uncapping and removing larvae to break the breeding cycle.
Honeybees are having a hard time thanks, in part, to one of the worst summers on record; some beekeepers are reporting a 90 per cent drop in yield while the total honey crop for England and Wales is estimated to be down 50 per cent. The prolonged period of cold and wet weather between April and August meant honeybees had less opportunity to leave their hives to gather nectar and pollen.
Bees are an essential part of the food chain and are responsible for a third of all food, contributing more than £200 million annually to the UK economy alone. But the bee population in the UK has plummeted by 50 per cent over the last 20 years and by 30 per cent globally.