Nick Herbert visits 'bee laboratory' at Sussex University

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert visited the University of Sussex on Friday afternoon (10 July) to meet researchers who are hoping to reverse the decline of the British honey bee.

The honey bee is the world's most important creature for pollinating the food that we eat, a role which is estimated to be worth £200 million in the UK and $100 billion worldwide.

Concern has grown about a decline in the bee population.  As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, "if the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live".

The number of hives in the UK dwindled by around a third during the winter as honey bees succumbed to the threat from pests, diseases and a loss of flowers in the countryside.

In the United States, colony collapse disorder has led to sudden hive losses of up to 90 per cent, decimating the bee population.  Worryingly, no firm cause for the disorder has yet been found.

Mr Herbert, who is Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, met with Professor Francis Ratnieks of the Laboratory for Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) who explained how his research team are looking at ways to restore a healthy bee population.

The University of Sussex has made a big commitment to honey bees by hiring Professor Ratnieks, the UK's only Professor of Apiculture, and by investing £250,000 to establish the new laboratory.

The research team is working on the Sussex Plan for Honeybee Health and Well Being, a groundbreaking project that will run for five years and cost £2 million.  Research will focus on efforts to control diseases, breed disease resistant honey bees, and determine where the bees collect their food by decoding their communication dances.

Professor Ratnieks commented: "It is very encouraging that Nick is taking such an interest in the honey bee.  Every year in Britain, honey bees pollinate agricultural crops worth £200 million.  Honey bees are also fascinating animals in their own right and I think Nick learned how to decode bee dances during his visit.  But I am not sure if he is going to be trying out the steps himself."

Nick Herbert commented: "I was delighted to visit the bee laboratory at the University of Sussex.  I was impressed by the research effort there and congratulate Professor Ratnieks and his colleagues for getting this new facility up and running.

"We have seen a very worrying decline in the honey bee population and more research is needed if we are going to put this right.  It is important, not only for the health of our countryside, but for the productivity of our farming industry too."

Last week, Mr Herbert co-tabled a motion in the House of Commons welcoming the investment of an extra £10 million for research into the decline in British honey bee and other insect pollinator numbers and calling on MPs to support the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being.

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Notes for Editors

1. For more information on the Laboratory for Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, visit www.sussex.ac.uk/lasi.

2. For further details of the Early Day Motion, EDM 1837, visit http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=39049&SESSION=899.

3. The photograph of Nick Herbert's visit shows (from left to right): Norman Carreck (Bee Researcher); Professor Francis Ratnieks; Sue Hepburn (Development Officer); Nick Herbert MP; Professor Jonathan Bacon (Dean of Life Sciences).

Ed Barker