Beekeepers fear for future of honeybees as survey shows steady decline in honey crop

A British Beekeepers Association's (BBKA) survey has revealed beekeepers in England produced an average 23.8 lbs (11.8 kg) of honey per hive this year, down 2.3 lbs on last year. Picture by Katie Collins/PA Wire
A British Beekeepers Association's (BBKA) survey has revealed beekeepers in England produced an average 23.8 lbs (11.8 kg) of honey per hive this year, down 2.3 lbs on last year. Picture by Katie Collins/PA Wire

Beekeepers have raised concerns over the future of honeybees as an annual survey showed a "steady decline" in the honey crop.

The British Beekeepers Association's (BBKA) survey revealed beekeepers in England produced an average 23.8 lbs (11.8 kg) of honey per hive this year, down 2.3 lbs on last year.

While weather can cause fluctuations in honey yield, the organisation said it is the steady overall decline in quantity that is worrying, with long-time beekeepers saying a crop of 50-100 lbs was typical in the 1950s.

John Hobrough, who has recently been awarded his BBKA certificate for 60 years of beekeeping and is the BBKA's "adopt a beehive" campaign representative in the North East, said: "A honey crop of 50-100 lbs was typical when I started beekeeping in the 1950s.

"In those days farmers under-planted crops with clover to nourish the land, nowadays there just isn't time or space for this style of farming.

"I think it is having a huge impact on the honey crop, by reducing the forage available not just to honeybees, but all our insects."

The survey also revealed the factors worrying beekeepers about the future of their honeybees, with almost two-thirds (62%) concerned about pesticides including neonicotinoids which have been linked to declines in bees.

A third (31%) feared the loss of forage from agricultural development, 28% were worried about varroa mite pests, 28% were concerns about the invasive Asian hornet which preys on honeybees and 28% were anxious about climate change.

The survey of 1,446 beekeepers in England and Wales, members of the BBKA and the Welsh Beekeepers Association, found the South East was the most productive area, producing an average 30.1 lbs of honey per hive.

East England saw beekeepers get an average of 29.3 lbs of honey.

The South West, which suffered a particularly wet summer, saw its crop drop to an average 17.7 lbs per hive, while wet conditions in Wales saw similarly low levels of produce, with an average 17.8 lbs.

Britain differs from the rest of Europe in that beekeeping is mostly carried out by amateur beekeepers rather than bee farmers, the BBKA said.

Hives in suburban gardens or other areas were shown to be doing best, producing 27.5 lbs on average, and rural gardens or areas doing least well, with an average of 22.5 lbs of honey.

Margaret Murdin, BBKA chairwoman, said: "Everyone can play a part in helping honeybees and all the other insects they love such as butterflies and bumblebees by planting the right sort of flowers and shrubs.

"Check the label to see that anything you plant will be rich in nectar and pollen as not all plants are equal in this respect. A crocus is so much better for bees than a daffodil, for example.

"Our survey shows that suburban gardens and urban roof tops produce some of the best honey crops, so how we garden really can make a difference."