If the UK lost its honey bees the countryside would face devastation, and that is exactly what beekeepers fear could happen. Imagine a country lane. Hawthorn hedgerow on either side, clouds scudding overhead, apple blossom drifting gently by, the only noise the gentle hum of honey bees and the chirping of birds. What could be a more idyllic vision of British country life?
Then fast-forward 10 years.
The hedgerow is deteriorating, the birds are silent, the orchard is disappearing and the countryside is changed. Why? The hives are empty. Their once-buzzing occupants mysteriously vanished.Environment and rural affairs minister Lord Rooker envisaged just such a scenario recently when he warned: "Bee health is at risk and, frankly, if nothing is done about it, the fact is the honey bee population could be wiped out in 10 years."
In a few weeks' time, Britain's thousands of amateur beekeepers will face what might be called "Bee-Day". In the south of England, the weather will be warm enough that apiarists can lift the tops off their hives for the first time and find out if their colonies have survived the winter.
And these beekeepers are worried. Every winter some colonies are lost. But last year saw widespread anecdotal reports of above average losses, and the enthusiasts fear this year could be worse.
Norman Carreck is both entomologist and bee-keeper: And he is one of the anxious.
"Last winter a number of very experienced bee-keepers lost colonies in very mysterious circumstances."
One change is in the varroa mite, identified by Lord Rooker as the main threat.
The mite, which latches onto bees and sucks their "blood", arrived in the UK in 1992. Within a few years it had spread throughout the country and took the wild honey bee population to the brink of annihilation. Managed hives were also hit hard.
But having long been kept under control using chemical treatments, there is now a new problem.
"The mites are becoming resistant, there are no good alternatives for treatment" says Carreck.
And as well as varroa, the devil that beekeepers know, there is another cloud on the horizon. Across the Atlantic US honey bees are being wiped out in vast numbers by a mysterious condition that leaves hives deserted.
To learn more go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7240456.stm of Finlo Rohrer, BBC News Magazine