June 4th 2015, Cornwall, England
The hives were scattered across the fields as if thrown out by a giant hand. White wooden stacks rising above the long grass and wild flowers like tower blocks. The air was still and humid and a drip of sweat trickled down the veiled face of Martin Adams as he approached the first beehive. He put on a pair of thick gloves and prepared his smoker, to mask the alarm pheromones of the guard bees and calm the hive. Gently squeezing the bellows, he pumped the smoke around the hive entrance and then opened the lid of the hive and gave a final puff of smoke. Satisfied that the bees were calm, he placed the smoker on the ground and then reached his hand into the hive. Beginning his inspection, he carefully removed a frame noticing it was scarcely populated. He would have expected to see a good supply of pollen and honey, but this frame had minimal deposits of both. Shrugging, he replaced the frame into the hive before removing another. When the next frame produced the same result, a worried look appeared on his face.
He whipped up his radio to his mouth.
‘Yeah, this is Martin. Err, I think you need to see this.’
After a long pause, the radio cracked.
‘If it’s anything like what I’m seeing here,’ said his colleague, ‘then I don’t think I want to.’
Hurrying across the field as fast as he could, Adams dodged through the hives until he reached his colleague. He was dripping with sweat and his heart pounded due to the exertion caused by his heavy beekeepers suit. Gasping for air, he finally managed to speak.
Haynes Natural Bee Farm is the leading supplier of natural honey in the United Kingdom, producing high quality, chemical free, English honey. Established in 1983 by John Haynes, the company had seen a steady growth over three decades and had expanded rapidly in recent years due to the demand for natural honey products.
Frantically working away in the farms laboratory, Amanda Silverton gazed eagerly into the powerful lens of a microscope. Working for the farm for the past fourteen years, she had single-handedly diagnosed and prevented various diseases and ensured that the bees remained in the best condition. The slide in the microscope contained a bee’s wing from one of the hives.
‘What’s the verdict?’ Asked Martin, eagerly.
‘I’ll have to send the samples away, but my preliminary tests suggest that the bees are infected with the Tobacco Ringspot Virus.’ She replied, her eyes still fixed on the lens of the microscope. ‘How many hives are affected?’
Martin struggled to get the words out and Amanda switched her attention from the microscope to him. Finally after a long pause he replied.
‘All of them.’
The words came as a shock at first. Amanda had cared for the bees day in and day out, ‘Happy bees are productive bees’ was her motto. To see the hives die out was devastating.
Finally, she got her thoughts together, ‘We need to notify the governments Department for Environment and the British Beekeepers Association immediately. If this spreads nationwide then the consequences would be disastrous.’
Martin looked concerned and his mind began to wonder. He knew she was right. One out of every three mouthfuls in a human’s diet comes from plants pollinated by honeybees. If the bees were to die out, so would one third of the world’s food supply.