SCIENTISTS are seeking honey samples from across Scotland so that they can better understand the factors that affect the size and health of honeybee populations and their honey yields.

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is asking amateur and professional beekeepers across Scotland to send in samples for its new National Honey Monitoring Scheme, which aims to comprehensively test honey from around the UK, using advanced techniques such as DNA barcoding and mass spectrometry.

The CEH scientists hope to identify the types of pollen and pesticide residues present in the honey samples, as well as some of the diseases that the bees are exposed to, and create an archive of hundreds of samples from every region and type of habitat and landscape in Scotland and rest of the UK.

CEH's Professor Richard Pywell, who is leading the monitoring scheme, said: "The vulnerability of honeybees to the way we manage land in the UK has long been a cause for concern, but it is this sensitivity that makes them potentially really important for monitoring long-term changes to the condition and health of the countryside.

“We want to work with beekeepers in Scotland and across the UK to understand where in the countryside bees have lots of crop and wildflowers to feed upon, and where they are forced to feed on only a few plant species. Similarly, we want to know what pesticides they are exposed to and where this is occurring.

“This information will help us understand some of the factors affecting the size and health of honeybee populations, and ultimately honey yields. It will also inform the way we might manage the countryside in future to support honeybees and wild pollinators, for example, which wildflowers and crops we might plant to augment bee diets.”

Scotland has around 2000 amateur beekeepers and 30 large-scale bee farms from Dumfries to Orkney. While the recent exceptional weather means beekeepers are reporting larger yields at the moment, they experienced higher-than-normal reductions in bee numbers over the winter.

An earlier CEH study of 130 honey samples provided by beekeepers across Britain during 2014 and 2015 found that one in five of the samples contained neonicotinoid pesticide residues following the introduction of the EU-wide ban on their use on seed dressings on flowering crops – suggesting that these pesticides remained prevalent in the farming environment.

Alan Riach, president of the Scottish Beekeepers Association, said: “The National Honey Monitoring Scheme is a long-term project that will track the health of Scotland’s countryside through our honey samples.

“We hope our members, and beekeepers across Scotland, will sign up to provide samples so that we can contribute towards a comprehensive ‘state of the nation’ survey of Scotland’s honeybees and honey production.

“The more beekeepers who take part, the more valuable the results will be.”

The monitoring scheme is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council's contribution to the research programme Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems. Beekeepers are asked to send in samples twice a year. Details about the scheme, including FAQs and a video on how to collect honey samples, is available at