Honeybees will die out in Britain within a decade as virulent diseases and parasites spread through the nation’s hives, experts have warned.
Whole colonies of bees are already being wiped out, with current methods of pest control unable to stop the problem.
The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) said that if the crisis continued, honeybees would disappear completely from Britain by 2018, causing “calamitous” economic and environmental problems.
It called on the Government to restart shelved research programmes and to fund new ones to try to save the insects.
Tim Lovett, the association’s president, said: “The situation has become insupportable and the Government is unwilling to take steps to avoid disaster.
“We’re increasingly unable to cope with threats as they arise. No bees means a huge cost to agriculture, without touching on the ecological and environmental issues. We’re facing calamitous results.”
Last year, more than 11 per cent of all beehives inspected were wiped out, although losses were higher in some areas.
In London, about 4,000 hives – two-thirds of the bee colonies in the capital – were estimated to have died over last winter. Of the eight colonies inspected so far this year, all have been wiped out.
The losses are being blamed on Colony Collapse Disorder, a disease that has severely affected bee populations in America and Europe, and a resistant form of Varroa destructor, a parasitic mite that affects bees.
The decline in honeybees is risking the sustainability of home-grown food. They pollinate more than 90 of the flowering crops we rely on for food. They are estimated to contribute more than £1 billion a year to the national economy yet the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), spends an average of only £200,000 a year on research to protect them.
The BBKA will this week launch a campaign aimed at forcing ministers to take the plight of the bee more seriously, and to spend the £8 million over the next five years which it believes is essential to guarantee its survival.
At their annual meeting held earlier this month, the association’s 11,200 members voted unanimously to condemn the Government’s position.
At a showdown meeting, between Lord Rooker, the farming minister, and the BBKA last month, the minister refused to increase the spending, even though in November, he appeared to admit the severity of the threat, when he said: “If we do not do anything, the chances are that in 10 years’ time we will not have any honeybees.”
Mr Lovett added: “Defra has been alerted, but chooses to take no action. If nothing happens, we may not even have to wait 10 years.”
Professor Francis Ratniek, a bee expert at Sheffield University, said: “If there was to be a bee collapse the effect on Britain would be huge.
“In Britain we haven’t had our fair share of bee research funds and research into bee disease has decreased just as the threat to colonies is increasing. A complete die-off is a worst case scenario.”