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BBKA Winter Survival Survey 2017

18 October 2017 

British Beekeepers are Losing Fewer Bees over Winter

British​ ​Beekeepers’​ ​Association​ ​(BBKA)​ 10​th​ Annual​ ​Colony​ ​Survival​ ​Survey results​ ​are​ ​published​ ​today​ ​and​ ​show​ ​a​ ​reduction​ ​in​ ​the​ ​over-winter​ ​losses compared​ ​to​ ​the​ ​previous​ ​year,​ ​down​ ​from​ ​16.7​ ​to​ ​13.2.

The overall trend continues to show a welcome decline in the number of colony losses. Respondents gave a variety of reasons why they believe their colonies failed and these included various aspects of queen failure, starvation, lack of forage and cold weather restricting foraging activities and forage availability.


Regional analysis showed the highest regional losses were seen in the North East at 23% and the lowest in the Eastern region at 9.7%. This reverses the regional pattern of 2016 which showed higher losses in the South of the country.

It is unclear what is driving these regional variations BBKA Director of Communications, Martin Smith, said:

“One of the key drivers of success in overwintering honey bees is the level of competence of individual beekeepers. The BBKA and its member associations have worked hard to provide educational resources, training courses and other materials to allow beekeepers to improve their husbandry skills. This in turn enables them to maintain healthy bee colonies, despite the various threats to their survival.”

The above data preceded the arrival of the Asian Hornet into the UK and this aspect will also be monitored in the 2018 survey in the light of the development of the Asian Hornet invasion.

Notes to Editors

Importance​ ​of​ ​winter​ ​losses of​ ​honey​ ​bees. The honey bee is the only bee to maintain a colony throughout the winter. The colony reduces its size in autumn and relies on its stores of honey to last it through the winter months when it is too cold for foraging or there is no forage available.

'Splitting' Colonies

The loss of honey bee colonies impacts the available pollination resources as well as reducing honey crops, so it is essential that beekeepers rebuild stocks. This is done by ‘splitting’ colonies and building honey bee numbers back up to strength over the season. So if, for example, a beekeeper takes 10 hives into the winter but loses two colonies by the spring, a further two colonies must be ‘split’ to get back up to 10 colonies by the end of the season. The net effect being that the beekeeper has effectively only 6 hives running at full strength during that season. Experienced beekeepers keeping bees in good conditions are able to increase the number of colonies highlighting the importance of beekeepers in managing and growing honey bee colony numbers.

Winter bees live longer

Honey​ ​bee​ ​survival In winter, worker bees can live for up to five or six months, But in the summer, worker bees only live for around six weeks having to work much harder foraging. Honey bee queens live for three to four years but cannot survive without worker bees. In some other species of bees or wasps only the queen survives by hibernating through the winter months.

About the BBKA

With around 25,000 members the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) is the leading organisation supporting honey bees and beekeepers within the UK.

BBKA​ ​Winter​ ​Survival​ ​Survey​ ​2016   

Honey​ ​bees​ ​still​ ​under​ ​pressure   

The​ ​results​ ​of​ ​the​ ​BBKA​ ​annual​ ​colony​ ​survival​ ​survey​ ​are​ ​published  today​ ​and​ ​show​ ​a​ ​small​ ​increase​ ​in​ ​over​ ​winter​ ​losses​ ​rising​ ​from​ ​14.5%  in​ ​the​ ​previous​ ​winter​ ​(2014-15)​ ​to​ ​16.7%​ ​this​ ​winter​ ​(2015-16).​ ​The  overall​ ​trend​ ​based​ ​on​ ​the​ ​nine​ ​years​ ​of​ ​data​ ​is​ ​still​ ​for​ ​moderate  improvement​ ​and​ ​is​ ​a​ ​tribute​ ​to​ ​the​ ​considerable​ ​efforts​ ​of​ ​beekeepers  to​ ​overcome​ ​bad​ ​weather,​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​good​ ​forage,​ ​disease​ ​and​ ​other​ ​stress  factors.    

Several​ ​causes​ ​for​ ​the​ ​losses​ ​are​ ​suggested​ ​by​ ​responders​ ​based​ ​on  unfavourable​ ​spring​ ​and​ ​summer​ ​weather​ ​in​ ​2015.​ ​This​ ​had​ ​an​ ​effect​ ​on  the​ ​bees​ ​ability​ ​to​ ​forage​ ​adequately​ ​and​ ​provided​ ​poor​ ​conditions​ ​for  swarming​ ​and​ ​subsequent​ ​mating​ ​of​ ​virgin​ ​queens.​ ​​ ​Thus​ ​starvation​ ​and  queen​ ​failure​ ​were​ ​frequently​ ​reported.​ ​The​ ​predations​ ​of​ ​wasps​ ​last  autumn​ ​were​ ​also​ ​noted​ ​in​ ​some​ ​areas.   
Beekeepers​ ​are​ ​already​ ​on​ ​alert​ ​to​ ​ensure​ ​that​ ​their​ ​colonies​ ​are​ ​well  supplied​ ​this​ ​autumn​ ​in​ ​preparation​ ​for​ ​the​ ​winter​ ​due​ ​to​ ​the​ ​poor  weather​ ​experienced​ ​this​ ​spring​ ​and​ ​early​ ​summer. 

Regional​ ​analysis​ ​showed​ ​the​ ​highest​ ​regional​ ​losses​ ​were​ ​seen​ ​in​ ​the South​ ​East​ ​region​ ​at​ ​23%​ ​and​ ​Southern​ ​region​ ​at​ ​19.9%.​ ​The​ ​lowest  losses​ ​were​ ​recorded​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Northern​ ​region​ ​at​ ​11.0%.     

Regional​ ​Loss​ ​Rates

Eastern   13.5% 
North​ ​East  18.0% 
Northern  11.0% 
South​ ​East  23.4% 
South​ ​West  15.7% 
Southern   19.9% 
Western   14.4%