Page last updated at 05:42 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 06:42 UK

Strange case of the missing bees

By Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland Environment Correspondent

Bee hive
Some hives are lying empty

Bees are usually the hardest workers in County Armagh orchards, pollinating the apple blossom - but this year fruit growers complain that many bees have simply not turned up.

Bee-keepers, too, are worried about the crash in numbers and some are describing the problem as colony collapse disorder.

There are lots of theories but as yet, no-one is sure what is actually killing the bees.

Some believe it may be a viral infection.

But others think the bee deaths may be linked to climate change.

The theory goes that the bees may be waking up too early and end up starving.

The thought of hungry bees failing to make it back to the hive is certainly a bleak one.

'Affected hives'

Whatever the cause, bee-keepers like Philip Earle are in no doubt just how serious the problem is.

Opening one of the affected hives, Philip explains that it should be full of bees, but points to just a few hundred survivors.

It's a similar story in many hives across Northern Ireland where apparently healthy colonies have suddenly disappeared.

Back in County Armagh, the apple blossom is as good as anyone can remember.

For the hives which have survived, the busy bees will now be working overtime to pollinate the apple crop.

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