MPs urge defra to improve data on bees

The environment department (DEFRA) must persuade unregistered beekeepers to sign up to its register and inspection regime, MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have recommended.

The PAC made the call in its inquiry into what measures DEFRA is taking to prevent, identify and control diseases affecting honeybees and livestock. 1.

About 250,000 honeybee colonies exist in England and Wales. Beekeepers have noted significant hive losses in recent years. DEFRA recorded a 12% loss in inspected colonies last year; the highest in at least a decade (ENDS Report 409, pp 24-25 ).

Nearly 80% of cases of notifiable disease are identified through DEFRA’s inspections. But about half the estimated 37,000 beekeepers in England have not joined the department’s voluntary register.

Few reports of notifiable disease are made by unregistered keepers. DEFRA could target its advice much more effectively if it had more information, the MPs said.

The PAC said about 39 commercial crops with an estimated value of £200m a year to the UK agricultural economy rely on insect pollination.

It criticised the low priority DEFRA has placed on bee health research. In 2007-08, it spent £200,000 on research. Early this year, the government announced an extra £2.5m over five years, but this includes research into other pollinator insects.

DEFRA should specify which aspects of honeybee health it plans to research and what proportion of the additional funds are likely to be ring-fenced for this purpose, MPs said.

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