Will Swindon be remembered as the home of a major breakthrough in halting the global decline of the honeybee? Ron Hoskins, a 79-year-old beekeeper from the town, has spent the last 18 years looking for a bee that is resistant to the parasite blamed for killing billions worldwide. And yesterday he claimed that his superbee could assure the future of the insect that pollinates around a third of everything we eat.
Hoskins, a former heating engineer, claims to have bred a honeybee that "grooms" other bees in the hives to remove the blood-sucking varroa mite that spreads viruses and disease. It has killed billions of honeybees since it entered Britain in 1992 and has been implicated in the colony collapse disorder that has wiped out billions more in the US in the last few years.
Hoskins calls his strain the "Swindon honeybee". But any of Britain's estimated 40,000 beekeepers hoping to get their hands on his superbees will be disappointed. He says more research is needed and expects it to be some years before his bees could be available to buy.
Martin Smith, president of the British Beekeepers' Association, which will fund the roll-out of the research to Wiltshire beekeepers, says: "It may be rather premature to say Mr Hoskins's bees hold the answer to halting the number of bee deaths but it could well be a gem of an idea like this that will provide the solution to controlling the varroa mite."
Hoskins is not the only person trying to breed a varroa-resistant bee. In the US, scientists have developed hygienic bees that groom each other, and the UK's only professor of apiculture, Frances Ratnieks, is breeding "cleaner bees" at Sussex University. They remove dead pupae and larvae from hives where the female mite lays her eggs. But so-called superbees have a downside. According to US research, they can be more aggressive and less prolific honey-makers.
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