A leading business pressure group is backing a campaign to safeguard the British honeybee population whose future is threatened by Government cuts despite the huge contribution they make to the agriculture industry by spreading pollen.
The Forum of Private Business (FPB) which represents 25,000 small businesses including many in the agricultural sector, says that the Government has "got a bee in its bonnet" about cutting costs.
In three years time the Government is reducing the amount of money spent on the Honeybee Health Programme by a quarter of million pounds to an annual overall cost of £1m. This will mean the loss of half its 40 strong staff of bee inspectors.
However beekeepers say the inspectors are frontline experts who play a vital role in helping them fight diseases which could decimate the bee pollulation such as American Foul Brood, European Foul Brood and Varroasis. There is also the looming threat of the small hive beetle spreading from Europe or the USA.
Most of England's 20, 000 beekeepers do not make money from keeping bees and the sales of honey only totals £12½m a year. However a Government survey showed that honeybees contribute at least £120m to the agricultural economy by spreading pollen.
Nick Goulding, chief executive of the FPB, said that although small businesses had welcomed recent Government commitments to reduce regulation and red tape, "we have always argued that good regulation can have positive effects". Beekeepers were small businesses that needed help because of their vital contribution to our agricultural industry.
"Bees are highly productive workers. Many small businesses in the countryside, including our members, benefit hugely from the work done by people whose hobby is looking after bees", said Mr Goulding. "If the Government is serious about wanting to trim regulation and red tape we would be happy to provide ministers with a hit list that will help small businesses and at the same time maintain a large population of busy honey bees working for all of us".
The small hive beetle is not the only threat to British bees posed by Europe. An EU directive stipulates that remedies to fight bee diseases must be prescribed by vets, who will also have to make regular inspections of all hives, even though most of them know nothing about bees. The cost of these regulations on beekeepers would be considerable.
However the Government can argue that beekeeping is a special case and can "opt out" of this directive. Nick Goulding said that the European Commission should be told to "buzz off. It would indeed be ironic if the Government accepted damaging European regulation while chopping effective British regulation", he said.
"A quarter of a million pounds is nothing for a country that can spend billions on hosting the Olympics. The FPB urges its members to support the British Beekeepers Association's campaign. There is still time for the Government to think again".
Sign petition at: British Beekeeper's Association