SCIENTISTS in York studying diseases affecting Europe’s honey bee population have received a £1 million grant to back their research.

The Bee Unit, at The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), based at Sand Hutton, will now review 20 year’s of data on the spread of diseases which are having a devastating affect on hives throughout the UK and Europe.

Dr Giles Budge, co-ordinator of the research at Sand Hutton, said the honey bee was considered the most economically important insect pollinator in the world and was worth £200 million to the UK economy.

He said: “Honey bee colony losses have been reported from many countries around the world.

“Such reports are worrying because there are some circumstances where the crop production could be limited by the absence of pollination.

“Diseases contribute to these honey bee losses across many areas of the world. By understanding how disease is transmitted in insect pollinator populations, our project will minimise the impact of disease on this community.”

The team will look at how the devastating disease European Foulbrood (EFB) affects honeybee colonies and study how the genetics of the bee, the behaviour of the beekeeper, and changing weather conditions determine the spread of EFB through the British landscape. The project is one of nine, worth a total of £9.5 million, funded from the Insect Pollinators Initiative which was announced on Tuesday as part of National Insect Week.

Fera is responsible for the Government’s bee health policy in England and, in particular, the implementation of the Healthy Bees Plan which aims to control the spread of endemic diseases of honey bees. Dr Budge said: “Our work is vitally important if we are to ensure the pollination services provided by insects are available for food production in the future.”