Page last updated at 06:51 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 07:51 UK

Lotto backing to save Welsh bees

Bees in the UK are threatened by a virus

A project aimed at preventing honey bees dying out in Wales has received almost 5,000 in Lottery backing.

It will help fund a breeding programme in Pembrokeshire to replenish falling numbers with hardy native bees.

Colonies across Wales are being wiped out by viruses spread by the varroa mite, with beekeepers reporting losses of up to 60% of their stock.

There are claims that honey bees could become extinct, not just in Wales but across the world, within 10 years.

The money from the Awards for All Wales programme will fund the Pembrokeshire Beekeepers Association's "Prevent the Extinction of the Honey Bee" project.

Members said hundreds of colonies in the county had been killed already and re-stocking has been undertaken by importing queen bees from the Mediterranean.

But they said those bees were more prone to various diseases and viruses and the problem was made worse.

Can a new 'super' bee help save resident hives?

Although the majority of honey bee colonies were lost in 1921 due to an earlier outbreak of disease, pockets of native Welsh bees survived.

The association said they appeared to be less prone to disease, having evolved to meet local conditions.

One of the pockets is in Abercych, near Boncath, and the money will pay for equipment to establish the breeding programme using these bees.

New queens will be bred to re-establish the stocks of Pembrokeshire beekeepers free of charge and, in time, those of the rest of Wales.

A member of the group will attend a course in the use of the specialised equipment and will, in turn, train further members of the association.

The association's Ian Richards said: "We want to help save the species in Wales by starting this breeding programme.

"There are reports that 800,000 bee colonies were wiped out in America last year. This virus could wipe out the population worldwide, which would result in catastrophe.

"The British apple industry would face devastating consequences if there were no bees, while bird populations would also suffer.

"On the coast here in Pembrokeshire, we seem to have bees that are quite resistant to the virus.

"To breed these bees we will be using techniques that have been pioneered by a top American scientist.

"As a charity, we wouldn't have been able to do this without the grant. It might sound dramatic, but it's essential that we save this important species for the sake of mankind."

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