Page last updated at 23:05 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 00:05 UK

Help call for vanishing honeybees

Beekeeper with bees
Bees have been hit by disease, climate change and pesticide use

Britain's honeybees are disappearing at an "alarming" rate, yet the government is taking "little interest" in the problem, a group of MPs has said.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says bees, vital for pollinating crops, are worth £200m a year to the economy.

It wants Defra to spend more money on research into bee health and make registration compulsory for beekeepers.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said £10m had been earmarked to analyse the decline of pollinators, including bees.

But the PAC wants the government to ring-fence that money for honeybees alone and not allow it to be diluted by looking at other pollinating insects.

'Colonies lost'

The government says bee numbers have fallen by up to 15% in the last two years, in part because agricultural changes have reduced the availability of the wildflowers they depend on for food.

Disease, climate change and pesticide use have also been blamed for the decline.

Honeybees and other pollinators are absolutely vital to producing our food
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn

Chairman of the PAC, Edward Leigh said: "Honeybees are dying and colonies are being lost at an alarming rate."

Given their value to the economy, he said it was "difficult to understand why Defra has taken so little interest in the problem up to now".

Registration is currently voluntary for beekeepers, but the PAC says making it compulsory would allow Defra to deliver advice on bee husbandry to far more people.

Mr Benn said: "Honeybees and other pollinators are absolutely vital to producing our food.

"Defra is providing financial backing for a £10m research initiative into pollinator decline, including honey bees, with decisions on projects to be made in the coming months."

The British Beekeepers Association has backed the PAC's call for research spending to be ring-fenced.

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