THEY are already a species under threat. Now climate change could impact on the survival of the UK's honey bee population - according to new research by Queen's University, Belfast.

Scientists found an exotic parasite, which targets the insects is set to flourish in northern Europe if the Earth continues to warm.

The study assessed the future threat posed by the gut parasite, Nosema ceranae, which originates in Asia but can now be found worldwide.

New evidence of the parasite's superior competitive ability and the link between its population size and climate change has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Co-author of the study and adjunct reader at Queen's School of Biological Sciences, Professor Robert Paxton, says: "This emerging parasite is more susceptible to cold than its original close relative, possibly reflecting its presumed origin in east Asia.

"In the face of rising global temperatures, our findings suggest that it will increase in prevalence and potentially lead to increased honey bee colony losses in Britain.”

Co-researcher Myrsini Natsopoulou, from the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany said: “Our results reveal not only that the exotic parasite is a better competitor than its original close relative, but that its widespread distribution and patterns of prevalence in nature depend on climatic conditions too."

The study was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a joint venture of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.

Bill Cadmore, training officer with Bradford Beekeepers Association, says threats to the bee population are worrying.

"There are so many things coming through, you have Varroa (he says, referring to the parasitic mite which kills millions of honeybees worldwide), you have the weather, you have Nosema and you have pesticides and I think we should be thinking about bees as endangered insects," he says.

He hopes awareness, particularly among the younger generation, will help to educate about the importance of the insects and encourage people to look at ways they can protect bees and halt their future decline.

"They make our plates more interesting," says Bill, referring to the part bees play in contributing to the food chain.

"All the nice bits of food need pollination. The thing we can do is people with gardens and parks can grow a variety of plants suitable for bees - that is the most important thing," adds Bill.

Bill says this latest threat is almost like another 'nail in the coffin.' "What do we have to do to keep this going?"

To help educate youngsters about the importance of bees, Bradford Beekeepers Association have compiled a special learning resource with the help of a £9,713 cash boost from The Gannett Foundation, run by the parent company of the Telegraph & Argus.

'Bradford's Brilliant Bees' will be launched on Friday December 5 at Low Ash School, Shipley, and will be distributed to more than 230 schools within the city during January.

Retired teacher Bill, who has primarily written the school packs, explains they contain more than 100 classroom activities for younger children in Key Stage 1, as well as complicated tasks for older children, including A' level students. Information about pollination, bees and food and the importance of biodiversity is also included.

Two DVDs contained within the pack comprise activities, worksheets and powerpoint presentations along with weblinks. They also give viewers the opportunity to see inside a hive through the eyes of some Year 6 students. "It is really transformational," says Bill. "It is the first time they have opened up a bee hive and they were sold on it."

Bill says he hopes it may also help youngsters with insect phobias to overcome their fear.

"It is awareness of how much our life is connected with nature and bees and pollinators in particular. It should help support nature in general but bees in particular."

"The aim of the pack is to make sure youngsters are more aware of the need for a diverse range of plants and animals in and around the city to help them understand the link between plants, animals and the food they eat, and to give them the opportunity to see for themselves how fascinating life inside a hive can be," adds Bill.

BdBKA will also be offering schools the opportunity to have an interactive session with a Bradford beekeeper and will also be welcoming school visits to the Tong apiary during the beekeeping season.

The Association is also working with Bradford South Community Chest to offer full training and support to two unemployed adults who are interested in bees and would benefit from the skills and social environment offered on a BfdBKA training course.

For more information call Bradford Beekeepers Association on 07847 476927 or 07968 817153.