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Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 14:55 UK
Beekeepers welcome cash injection

Bee on flower

They are cute, furry and provide us with glorious honey, but sadly the humble honey bee is in danger of dying out.

The number of bees in the UK alone has fallen between 10% and 15% over the last two years, and now the government has stepped in to help.

Beekeepers in Bristol have welcomed a £10m research project, which is part funded by the government, which experts hope could help to save the honey bee.

The study will look at the main threats to the species' existence - how they, and other insect pollinators like butterflies and moths, are affected by disease and climate change.

Pollinators - including honey and bumble bees, butterflies and moths - play an essential role in putting food on our tables through the pollination of many vital crops.

Dr Ivor Davies from Congresbury is the former President of the British Beekeepers' Association and keeps 20 colonies of bees.

He is pleased about the cash injection but has some reservations.

"We are quite excited and we welcome the investment. We are just worried that the money will be spent not on honey bees, but maybe on other pollinators.

Honey bees contribute over 160m to our agricultural economy every year

""This [money] is for all sorts of pollinators but we believe the honey bee is the most important pollinator and it's the one in the greatest crisis at the moment."

Dr Davies believes that you can actually measure the importance of honey bees by how much they contribute to the UK's agricultural economy.

"If you take just the value to our agricultural economy in this country, our honey bees contribute over £160m every year.

That works out £600 per hive - I've got 20 hives, so if you like I'm providing £12,000 to the agricultural economy by just keeping bees."

Beekeepers had a bad year in 2008, with honey bees overall losing an average of 30% of their colonies. So is there a danger of honey bees dying out all together?

"I doubt if we're going to lose all our honey bees," said Dr Davies.

"It's always the way that when a new pathogen comes along the poor animal has lots of trouble trying to cope with it and the numbers could plummet.

"We lost 30% of our bees last year, in some parts of the UK the number's been up to 50%. When you get to that sort of level it's very difficult for the bees to recover in subsequent years and there could be a terminal decline down to very, very small numbers."

Dr Davies concluded: "If that happens we are going to be in trouble. Pollinating honey bees are very, very important."

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