Page last updated at 09:58 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Manchester scheme boosts urban beekeeping

Paul Peacock with trainee beekeeper Rowena Pyott
The company wants to train hundreds of urban beekeepers

Urban beekeeping could be vital in helping reverse a decline in honeybees, the Co-operative Group has claimed.

The company, which has 600 hives on land around the UK, is rolling out a scheme to encourage more people to keep hives in towns and cities.

It began training budding beekeepers on allotments in Manchester in 2009.

Now the Plan Bee scheme, which the firm hopes can boost honeybee numbers, is being rolled out to other areas of the city as well as London and Inverness.

The Co-operative is spending an extra £225,000 on the project with the aim of getting 300 new beekeepers in cities.

Would-be beekeepers are sent on a free two-day course and, if they are interested, are provided with free kit, bees and an easy-to-use plastic "beehaus" hive.

Urban beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular and could be a vital tool in the reverse of honeybee decline in the UK
Paul Monaghan, the Co-operative

The new Plan Bee funding will also finance more research into the cause of declining honeybee populations in the UK.

Paul Monaghan, head of social goals at the Co-operative, said: "Nature's number one pollinating machine appears to be breaking down and no one knows for sure why.

"Urban beekeeping is becoming increasingly popular and could be a vital tool in the reverse of honeybee decline in the UK.

"Through our urban beekeeper projects we want to show people that you don't have to have acres of land to take up beekeeping."

Last year the government's conservation agency Natural England urged people in towns and cities to keep bees in their gardens to counter declining honeybee populations.

They face a growing number of threats including pests and diseases such as the varroa mite and a lack of habitat providing food sources such as wild flowers.

Experts believe the honeybee population halved in England between 1985 and 2005, the Co-operative said.

Across the UK, numbers of honeybee colonies have fallen by between 6.7% and almost 12% a year over the past three years, according to the government.

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