Czech bee population decimated by parasite

Czech bee colonies have been stung by a warmer-than-usual winter. The balmy temperatures in the Czech Republic over the last couple of months have provided an ideal breeding ground for a parasite which has been wreaking havoc on the country’s bee population. Experts predict that up to half of the Czech Republic’s bees could have been wiped out.

Zuzana Hanáková shows me the range of products at the Czech Beekeepers’ Union Shop. There’s honey of every variety, beeswax candles, royal jelly in all its forms and medovina – a traditional Czech honey liqueur. The price of all of these goods looks set to shoot up as the number of bees in this country dramatically falls. Why? Robert Šmied from the Beekeepers’ Union explains:

“The warm weather this winter has meant that queen bees have barely stopped giving birth to young bees, in some cases they haven’t stopped at all. The weather has also provided perfect breeding conditions for the parasite Varroa destructor. This parasite gets into the cells of female bees, and means that they give birth to deformed offspring. Bees are being born with damaged wings, with deformed legs, even without legs.”

Estimates suggest that as much as 50% of the Czech Republic’s bees could be wiped out by the parasite. As Mr Šmied explains, this could have far-reaching effects not just for beekeepers:

“The lower number of bees will have an effect on the prices of both fruit and vegetables. But it’s not just about prices; it’s also about the quality of these goods, because some fruits and some vegetables really rely upon bees pollinating them. They will not grow as well without such cross-pollination. Definitely the fall in the number of bees will have a real effect on Czech agriculture.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Šmied and other beekeepers are set to meet with the Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič to ask for emergency aid. They are seeking money to replenish their bee colonies before summer comes and, as hay fever sufferers well know, the pollen count goes up. For now, the future of Czech bees remains uncertain, but here’s hoping that come summer, the country’s meadows and forests are once again abuzz with bee activity.