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Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department takes to protect the honey bee population; what recent assessment he has made of the level of threat to the health of them; and if he will make a statement. (291818)

DEFRA's bee health programme, undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency's (Fera) National Bee Unit, provides an advisory and inspection service as well as a substantial training and education programme, free of charge to all beekeepers.

In recognition of the increasing threats to honey bees, the 'Healthy Bees' plan was launched on 9 March and is aimed at sustaining honey bee health and beekeeping in England and Wales over the next decade. A key part of this is working more closely with a wide range of bee stakeholders on practical actions and priorities. Additional funding of £2.3 million has been allocated to Fera during 2009-2011 to put more inspectors out in the field and collect more information on the degree of threat to the health of honey bee colonies. An enhanced education programme will drive up beekeeping skills, particularly husbandry standards and disease awareness. Our improved understanding of the national position will feed into a more effective and focused disease control and surveillance programme.

DEFRA also commissions research on bee health and, in addition to funding an ongoing investigative programme at Fera, is contributing £2.5million to the insect pollinator initiative and has recently invited proposals for three additional projects on honey bees to be undertaken between November 2009 and March 2010.