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More than a third of all honeybee colonies in England died over the winter, according to figures from the British Beekeepers Association, the worst losses since its winter survival survey began.
On average, 33.8 colonies in every 100 perished over the long winter of 2012-13 compared with 16.2% the previous winter. In the south-west of England, more than half of all colonies were wiped out and in the northern part of the country 46.4% didn't survive.
In Scotland and Wales, honeybees fared no better. The Scottish beekeepers association, which has yet to complete its annual survey, predicts losses of up to 50%. And bee farmers in Wales have reported 38% losses.
The BBKA attributed the alarming high bee mortality to the poor weather during 2012 continuing into 2013 and exacerbated by the late arrival of spring.
"April this year was very cold, and the start of May, so bees were confined to the hive for much longer and we still had bees dying from starvation in May. So losses could be much more serious," said Glyn Davies, a beekeeper from Devon and former president of the BBKA.
He said the south-west was particularly badly hit because of the relentless rain. "It was the wet, wet, wet, wet summer followed by an enormously long winter. I've never seen anything like it in the 35 years I've been keeping bees," said the 74-year-old beekeeper.
The winter bee losses come just weeks after EU member states voted for a suspension of three pesticides alleged to cause serious harm to bees.