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Page last updated at 10:18 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 11:18 UK

Hive of activity

Trudi Davies
The Politics Show South East

Honey bee gathering pollen
Honey bees gathering pollen is essential to human existence

'Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?'

Rupert Brooke

A dark cloud looms over the South East horizon according to the region's beekeepers.

Apis Mellifera, the Honey Bee, is under attack; climate change, varroa destructor mites, European foulbrood and small hive beetle are just a few of the enemies threatening the population.

In America they have fallen victim to colony collapse syndrome which wipes out entire hives, and beekeepers are worried that it could soon reach the UK.

The government is talking of a "Dad's Army" to defend the honey bees against the pests, although this time it is more B-Day than D-Day.

Barren garden?

The Garden of England would look rather different in a country with no honey bees.

The apple orchards of Kent, the flourishing vineyards across Sussex and soft fruit and flowering crops across the region would all decline in the absence of free, bee pollination.

Fears for the future - South East beekeepers

With numbers of wild bees also falling, the South East's apiarists are looking for urgent action from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

At the launch of a consultation paper this month, the Minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health, Lord Rooker said:

"Honey bees are facing serious threats from a growing number of pests and diseases.

"It is vital that we do all we can to respond effectively to these threats and to sustain honey bees and beekeeping for today and for future generations."

Protest march

Perhaps in practice for their Dad's Army call up, The British Beekeepers' Association have donned their uniforms (BBKA) and taken their case to Parliament.

Frustrated at the timescale of government action, which they see to be rather less than urgent, they are demanding that the government put its money where its mouth is.

"Immediate action needs to be taken to avoid this economic and ecological disaster in the making," said Tim Lovett, President of the association.

Bringing Rupert Brooke's nostalgic turn of phrase into the 21st Century, Mr Lovett went on;

"Does the government want the nation to go without honey on their toast, not have home-grown strawberries to go with their cream, and even put their own crusade for the public to eat five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables at risk?"

Current government spending on research into bee diseases stands at 200,000 a year, an arguably small return for the service that honey bees provide.

The BBKA put its contribution in the region of 165m a year to the agricultural economy. Nobody is rushing to deny the figure.

Bee colonies lost

The Bee Farmers' Association, which represents commercial beekeepers, announced in May 2008 that their members lost 20% of their colonies over the winter, a fourfold increase on previous years.

They and the BBKA say that they have no faith in the government's consultation process and no real belief in their commitment to fund additional work and research into disease.

Bee hive
Hive of activity - the British bee
Both are asking for around 8m over the next five years, and the commercial growers are keen to stress that the help needs to start now, not after years of governmental consultation during which time the bees will die.

We meet the region's beekeepers to find out if the situation in the South East really is as bleak as it appears.

Lord Rooker sets out the government's stall and Norman Carreck of the British Beekeepers' Association explains the need for urgent action.

Should we work harder to protect bees?

Text us on 07786 209252 or email us at or via the link below.

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Wired phone
Hi-tech phone system scans callers' voices

Also on the programme

We find out what the people of East Grinstead think of the latest council initiative which uses lie detector technology to fight housing benefit and council tax fraud.

The system relies on a new hi-tech phone system that scans callers' voices for increases in stress levels, apparently a telltale sign of lying.

It is being rolled out across the region's councils after a trial in Harrow revealed that the council there saved over 100,000 in just three months.

Is this a step too far in big brother technology or are councils justified in using any means if cost savings are the end result?

Text us on 07786 209252 or email us at or via the link below.

The earlier we receive your comments the more likely we are to get them on air.

You don't have to wait until the show has started.

It is easy... to take part in the show.

If you have an idea for an item, want to make your own report or simply want to comment on what we are doing then please get in touch via any of the links below or write to the Politics Show team at Politics Show, Lambent Productions, The Media Centre, 21-22 Old Steine, Brighton, BN1 1EL.

The Politics Show for the South East, with Jon Sopel and Paul Siegert on Sundays at 1200 BST on BBC One.

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