SOMERSET’S beekeepers are doing their bit to help fight the decline in bee numbers, despite having seen a 50 per cent drop in their honey yield in the past year.

Results in the county mirror a national trend which has seen the number of bee colonies in the UK drop from 250,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 100,000 today.

And this year had been among the worst years for decades, experts said.

Honey farmer Chris Harries, from Sedgemoor Honey, added that this year’s harvest was one of the worst of the last decade.

“In the summer the flow never really got going,” he said. “First the weather was too dry, then too wet; but my biggest problem in July was that some of the queens stopped laying altogether.”

The sentiment was echoed by Tim Lovett, of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), who said: “It’s fair to say that the summer of 2015 delivered quite simply the wrong weather for our bees.”

This week, the Gazette spoke to the Lords spokesman for Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Lord Gardiner, about the government’s plan to try and increase bee numbers, and what people can do to help.

He said: “The Government has unveiled its 10-year National Pollinator Strategy last November.

“DEFRA wants to play a leading role in improving conditions for the 1,500 pollinating insects who are suffering from a range of environmental pressures, whether it is invasive species, loss of habitats or pesticides.

“Anyone who has seen bees in operation knows they are vital in the reproduction of wild flowers and play an absolutely essential role in our diets, whether it is apples, strawberries, beans or of course, honey.”

Not only do bees play an important environmental role but researchers at the University of Reading found they also contribute £651 million to the UK economy each year.

“We want to support initiatives both on a large or small scale, whether it is farmers, beekeepers or people with window boxes,” Lord Gardiner said.

“There are many things we can all do and it is a subject that engages people so if DEFRA can play a leading role then that is fantastic.

“One of the things we hope is that people will plant certain flowers which are food for pollinators, whether it be foxgloves or lavender. This is just one small thing people can do but if more people did it, it could be of great benefit."

To try and help, the Somerset Beekeepers Association is taking bookings for a beginners’ programme which kicks off in the new year, where they will run a series of lectures followed by hands-on apiary sessions in the spring.

Somerset had a disappointing harvest, seeing a 50 per cent drop in their yield last year, one of the lowest in the past 50 years according to Taunton beekeeper, David Morris.

“The general feeling is that we have all had a poor year in terms of honey with an average of under 20 lbs per hive appearing to be the norm,” he said.

“Those who have just started beekeeping can, however, take heart. My records start in 1966 and there have only been eight relatively poor years out of the last fifty,” Mr Morris said.

Anne Pike, a beekeeper in North Curry, near Taunton, said: “This year could be renamed the ‘year of the wasp’. They’ve killed three full colonies and a starter colony in our club apiary.

“And some beekeepers report losing more hives to wasps this year than to any one single factor in the last 10.”

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