Beekeepers lost 36% of their hives on average throughout the winter, according to data published by the Belgian Beekeeping Federation (BBF). Some apiaries were even more adversely affected by winter losses however, with great variations between different parts of the country, and even between beekeepers. This phenomenon puzzles beekeepers. Marianne Keppens, BBF president, recovered only 2 hives out of 20 at the end of the winter. Aware this was an abnormally high death rate, she went on to collect data from 410 other Belgian beekeepers. On average they lost a third of their colonies this year, with huge regional variations. Walloon-Brabant beekeepers reported losses of 55%, but Flemish Brabant only 31%. The death rate reached 42% in Brussels, 39% in Namur, 35% in Liège, 22% in Luxemburg, and 27% in Hainaut, according to BBF calculations.
“We usually lose approximately 10% of our colonies, but this year has been catastrophic. Hives have been suffering since early December,” points out Mrs. Keppens. “It is all or nothing. The death rate is either normal, or very high and frankly, puzzling, sometimes only 5km away,” confirms Jean-Luc Strebelle, president of the Union of Beekeeper Federations in Wallonia and Brussels. “Experienced beekeepers have lost a great deal of bees without changing anything in the way they care for them. We are puzzled, there must be something new around locally which affected a large number of bees, as the climate cannot explain everything this year,” he adds.
Winter losses are due to various factors, but the two beekeepers are worried about the effect of pesticides and fungicides. In fact Mr. Strebelle advocates a total ban on neonicotinoids everywhere, as well as on intermediate crops which trap nitrates and which the bees forage on throughout the winter. “We need to do something,” adds Mrs. Keppens.