The number of honey bee colonies fell by nearly 12% last winter - according to a preliminary look at a survey of beekeepers, that is. The UK and Spain were worst affected this year. The prior year, other areas of Europe were hardest hit. While environmental groups make money scaring people about that, what it really means is something else.
The preliminary claims are being made by the honey bee research association COLOSS, based in the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern.
Bees are an indicator species, no one dismisses that, but in the last decade they have become a political rather than a science one. While bee losses have sometimes been extreme, for as long as beekeepers have kept record of when their hives died off, it is only recently that anti-science activists have taken to claiming it is due to a new class of targeted pesticide. Ironically, one which replaced broad-spectrum insecticides, called neonicotinoids.
But outside fundraising brochures, things are more complex. Varroa mites are the big culprit and amateur beekeepers and those who want to keep their organic sticker don't fight those properly. As amateur beekeeping has become a fad, especially among people who claim to care about the environment, they have made dramatic mistakes. They want to blame chemicals rather than their poor management practices, pests, diseases, or even that some winters are harder than others.
The survey results had beekeepers claiming that the spring and early summer months of 2015, from March to July, which were cold in Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland, with mean temperatures ranging from 12.8 - 14.4 °C, saw more losses. Obviously cold winters have had negative effects on colony development, resulting in both relatively high numbers of dead colonies and unsolvable queen problems after winter.