I saw some new data come out recently on US and UK overwintering rates so thought I would take a look at it. It’s probably impossible to compare the two countries though, because the climate, diseases and scale of commercial beekeeping are so different. In the UK most beekeepers are hobbyists and colony collapse disorder isn’t even officially recognised as a problem. But beekeepers in both regions do share a common no.1 enemy – varroa.
Based on the data, it sounds like honey bees aren’t doing too badly – probably the bees we really need to worry about are the ones that we’re not counting, the bumbles and tiny solitary bees that go unnoticed by most people.
US survival rates
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) began collecting data on honey bee health and pollination costs in 2016, “to build an even more robust scientific body of knowledge on honey bees“. Sadly the data collection had barely begun before the USDA announced this year that it’s being suspended.
Still, you can see the reports for 2016-2019 at Honey Bee Colonies releases. Perhaps one day the value of science and data will be appreciated again and the surveys will continue to be collected once more. The 2019 survey data, published 1st August 2019, tells us that:
- Honey bee colonies for operations with five or more colonies in the United States on January 1, 2019 totaled 2.67 million colonies, up 1% from January 1, 2018.
- Honey bee colonies lost for operations with five or more colonies from January through March 2019, was 408 thousand colonies, or 15%.
- During the quarter of October through December 2018, colonies lost totaled 445 thousand colonies, or 16%, the highest number lost of any quarter in 2018.
Honey bee colonies lost with Colony Collapse Disorder symptoms on operations with five or more colonies was 59.9 thousand colonies from January through March 2019. This is a 26% decrease from the same quarter of 2018.
- For an interesting perspective on the USDA cancelling the honey bee tracking survey, and easy tips on what you personally can do to help bees, see ‘USDA discontinues honey bee tracking‘ by the husband & wife blogging team Married with bees.
Survival rates for England, Scotland, Wales, Channel Isles, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland
The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) have released data for the winter of 2018-19 in their monthly magazine and a June 2019 press release, ‘Record low level of winter losses of honeybees‘. The data comes from a voluntary online survey completed by 5581 members.
The BBKA says:
“The overall winter survival rate was 91.5% or 8.5% losses. In England the rate was 91% survival with 9% losses, in Scotland 79% survival with 21% losses, Wales 94.3% survival with 5.7% losses and in the Channel Isles, Isle of Man and Northern Ireland survival rates were all above 98% so losses of less than 2% in those places.”
We’re doing well! As we’re quite a small country, most beekeepers are pretty near another beekeeper, which means there is usually someone not too far away to provide advice. And we have our fantastic National Bee Unit inspectors too, who will come out to see hives if a notifiable disease like American or European foul brood is suspected, as well as running Bee Health Day workshops to train beekeepers on spotting diseases. I wonder how much this good training and support network contributes to the high overwinter survival rate.
Below are some of the English stats, from their BBKA News magazine.