DEATH rates among honey bees are far lower in Spain and other Mediterranean countries than in northern European countries, according to the largest ever study of Europe’s bees.

The European Commission’s ground-breaking study – called Epilobee – compares the mortality of bee colonies over the winter and summer months, across 17 member states.

Winter mortality rates across Europe ranged between 3.5% and 33.6%.

Only six countries – including Spain (9.5%), Italy (5.3%) and Greece (6.6%) – had a winter mortality rate of less than 10%, named by the Commission as an acceptable threshold for bee death rates.

The results showed a far higher death rate in northern European countries, with Belgium the highest at 33.6%, followed by the UK with 29%.

Bumblebees and other wild bees were not taken into account by the study, which covered 32,000 colonies across Europe.

Last year the EU banned four chemicals – called neonicotinoids – which are used in pesticides, due to serious concern about increasing death rates among wild bees, which are vital pollinators.

These chemicals are suspected of causing the collapse of bee colonies across Europe, although there is heated scientific debate and many experts insist further studies are needed.

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