The Government has unveiled a long-term plan to combat the dramatic decline in bee numbers in the UK that has taken place in recent years.

The Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly Government, today publishes Healthy Bees, a 10-year plan to protect honey bees in England and Wales.

The first stage of the plan will be for the National Bee Unit to contact up to 20,000 amateur beekeepers in a bid to keep track of new or existing health problems.

Official figures estimate the UK’s honey bee population has dropped by between 10%-15% in the past two years, although the real drop could be far higher.

“Bees help put food on our plates as they produce honey and pollinate other plants, many of which produce food themselves,” said environment minister Jane Kennedy.

“We need to do all we can to safeguard the health of honey bees. This plan is a blueprint for doing that.”

She added: “The first step is to improve our contacts with all beekeepers so that we can ensure they take advantage of the free inspection and diagnostic services that the bee unit and its dedicated team of inspectors and scientists provide. That will help us pick up existing and emerging bee health problems and deal with them effectively.”