26th October 2016
I write this with a barely-suppressed tear in my eye and a couple of text books open on the desk in front of me. I am searching, painfully, for an answer. Up in the orchard, I have suffered a disaster. All of my bees have died.
Their demise appears to have been very sudden. A few weeks ago they were buzzing about very contentedly, and appeared to be very successful at filling their frames with honeycomb.
As a novice beekeeper, I might have failed to notice any distress – but I’m sure I did everything the books advise, trying to strike a balance between observation and not interfering too much. The hive is in good order and the bees had plenty of food.
The text books offer a bewildering array of possible causes. The West Country appears to be a relatively dangerous place for bees, with the most recent British Beekeepers Association surveys reporting around 15% of colonies dying here in recent years, every year. There is much talk of predation by wasps, illnesses caused by the varroa mite virus and other diseases, and – increasingly – the consequences of crop spraying.
Also, my bees were a “rare breed” – the small black Cornish honeybee – which is supposed to be relatively immune to varroa. But I guess there must be a reason why the breed is rare. And bees do seem vulnerable all over the world.
A few years ago, a third of the entire bee population of the United States died in one winter. The precise cause is still a mystery but there is no shortage of beekeepers blaming their over-chemicalised agricultural sector.
A friend told me he thought he had seen one of the large Asian hornets in the village recently. They were first seen in Gloucestershire a few months ago and have now been confirmed in Somerset. So far there is no official record of them in Cornwall, but they are deadly to bees.