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Does your national government help your honeybees?

The frenzy is well underway in European Union countries as governments finalise their plans for the upcoming funding cycle for honeybees and beekeeping.

In September, the EU is expected to approve each Member State’s national programme for support of the beekeeping sector. The coming three-year cycle runs from 2014 until 2016 and is intended to cover areas including Varroa control, applied research, technical assistance, laboratory support, migratory beekeeping and the restocking of hives.

I think it’s worth looking at the different approaches taken around the continent.

Provided they fit the broad areas (listed above) outlined in Article 106 of the relevant EU Directive (here, if you’re interested), governments are free to allocate the funding as they choose. In practice, approaches tend to fall into three groups, outlined below.

1 – ‘We do quite enough already, thank you very much’
Here in the UK, beekeepers don’t get a whiff of EU funding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is simply allocated straight to FERA, who provide support for the beekeeping sector in the form of the excellent National Bee Unit and our network of regional bee inspectors. Other countries adopting a similar approach include Ireland, Sweden, Holland and Denmark, all of whom plough the EU subsidy directly into research programmes. While research into bee health is clearly vital, what irks some beekeepers is that it can appear that work is simply being carried out for its own sake. Perhaps commercial organisations (with Governmental support) are better placed to carry out at least some of this research, given the clear imperative for a return on their investment.

2 – ‘What hurts most? Let’s try to help’
Many Central and Southern European Member States like Germany, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia, as well as Portugal and Italy, new Member Croatia and Accession candidate Montenegro use their EU funding to subsidise Varroa control. This has the dual benefit of aiding the fight against ‘enemy number one’ while incentivising a national register of beekeepers. This register could be considered a vital tool to track the spread of disease or pesticide resistance and cut down on rogue practices. As @SheffieldHoney pointed out on Twitter recently, in the UK one requires a licence to catch a single fish but not even a cursory check to keep millions of bees! Implementation of this strategy varies from subsidising the cost of Varroa treatments on an ‘approved list’ to handing out product free of charge but the key continuum is that support is given to registered colonies only.

3 – The combined approach
France is unusual in allocating funding to almost all of the areas covered by the EU directive, at least to some degree. France uses their budget to subsidise Varroa control, as well as for the rationalisation of seasonal migration, supporting research labs, restocking colonies and providing technical assistance.

Colony losses
Interestingly, a crude look at colony loss data (the figures I used relate to 2009-2012) would imply that the second approach leads to lower overall losses.

Looking forwards
It will be intriguing to see what happens when the national programmes are publicised next month. We already know, for example, that Slovenia is moving away from a system whereby every registered colony in the country received free treatment but the beekeeper had no choice of product – only one product was offered and the overwhelming criterion for the choice of product was lowest price, rather than effectiveness or ease of use.

We hope governments will see this round of funding as an opportunity to get support to where it really counts.

Sebastian Owen, Commercial Development Manager
Follow me on Twitter: @SDWOwen 

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