The first Scottish bee health survey published yesterday has revealed that 79 per cent of beekeepers lost one or more colonies last winter, up from 39 per cent in the previous winter.
Huge losses of honeybees have been blamed on a combination of factors, including bad weather and the varroa mite parasite which is found across the country.
The Scottish Government commissioned the survey, based on responses from 65 beekeepers, to gather data on the spread of diseases nationwide to help to assess the health of honey bees and the wider environment.
Environmentalists queried the absence of any reference to “lethal” pesticides, called neonicotinoids, which are about to be banned across Europe over fears that they are wiping out billions of bees worldwide.
Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Bees play a valuable role in our nation’s ecosystem, acting as pollinators for many crops and wild plants – as well as producing honey and other products.
“However, they can also highlight other issues which may be developing in our environment and that’s why we believe it’s important that we monitor bee health to ensure our bees stay healthy.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) voiced concerns over the findings. A spokesman said: “This survey does not take into account the potential impacts of neonicotinoids.
“Honeybees are also affected by neonicotiniods and this is why we would like to see neonicotinoids banned.”
There are currently about 2,400 beekeepers and 25 commercial bee farmers in Scotland.
The survey was based on questionnaire responses from 65 of 80 beekeepers chosen at random across nine Scottish regions, along with expert scientific inspections of their hives.
Results showed that the highest winter losses in 2012-13 were suffered in the Highlands, while beekeepers in Tayside lost the least number of colonies overall.
The Scottish Beekeepers’ Association (SBA) said it believed the weather and related viruses were the key causes of bee deaths.
SBA president Phil McAnespie said: “Last summer and autumn were very bad, which is obviously an issue and viruses are associated with that.
“I think most of the losses are down to the weather. Obviously, there is concern about neonicotinoids and there is ongoing research into that but I don’t think they have played any major part in this [the increase in bee deaths].”
Bees and other insects are believed to save Scottish farmers around £43 million per year by providing a “free pollinating service”.
In April, the Scottish Government announced a £200,000 fund to help bee farmers restock hives after heavy snow in March wiped out thousands of colonies.
A European ban on three key neonicotinoids, which attack insects’ nervous systems leaving them at greater risk of infection, is to be introduced at the end of this year despite opposition from Holyrood, Westminster and beekeepers across Britain.