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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 08:08 GMT 09:08 UK
Rain threatens 'starving' bees
A bee lands on a flower
The poor summer has hit the bees' food supply

Northern Ireland's honey bees are facing starvation following weeks of poor weather.

Rather than collecting honey from their hives, beekeepers are busy making up sugary drinks to sustain their hungry colonies.

Honey production relies on bees being able to forage for nectar and pollen, but wet and cold weather has made it a poor summer for flowers and drastically reduced their natural food supply.

As a result the bees are returning cold and hungry to their hives after fruitless flights looking for flowers.

Some people keep hives in their garden
Many hives will be empty this season
Heavy showers are also limiting their opportunities to search for food and many colonies are now starving.

Jim Fletcher of the Ulster Beekeepers' Association said: "We had very poor weather in May when we lost the hawthorn crop.

"June has been no better and the temperature in July hasn't been high enough for the clover to yield."

Inspecting his hives near Comber in County Down, he said empty honeycombs reflected the poor summer weather.

Northern Ireland has about 800 registered bee keepers and probably the same number of people again who simply keep a hive in their garden.

Hungry bees are more likely to sting
Hungry bees are more likely to sting
Mr Fletcher said: "Normally at this time of the year the honey would be piling in but the way things are there will be virtually no honey this year."

Rare blinks of sunshine allow the bees to go searching for flowers but as gardeners know, few blooms have emerged so far this summer.

Honey stores laid up in hives early in the summer are in many cases almost exhausted, leaving bees relying on sugary feeds.

Stinging risk

The strain is beginning to tell with bees showing signs of stress and aggression.

Hungry bees are angry bees and there is a greater risk of being stung this summer by the frustrated insects going in search of food.

Bees running short of food are also more liable to swarm and hive owners are struggling to maintain colonies whose instinct is to move in search of more productive feeding grounds.

The poor summer may also hold a financial sting for honey lovers. Already in short supply, the price of honey looks set to increase by about 25%.

For the bees, the summer of 2002 is proving a complete wash-out.

See also:

01 Apr 98 | Science/Nature
14 May 02 | Science/Nature
24 Apr 02 | N Ireland
03 May 00 | Science/Nature
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