Hundreds of beekeepers descended on Parliament demanding the Government takes action to stop the dramatic decline of bee colonies in Britain.

Members of the Warwickshire-based British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) marched to Downing Street to hand in a petition with 140,000 signatures backing their cause.

Many were dressed in beekeeping suits and carried smokers – used to calm bees in the hives, as they made their way to Whitehall to warn the Government the loss of almost two billion bees in the year had cost the economy millions.

As a result of the drop in numbers, the BBKA is calling for an increase from the £200,000 spent on bee health research each year to £1.6 million annually over five years.

According to the BBKA nearly one in three honey bee colonies was lost over the year. Some 90,000 of the 274,000 UK hives – each containing 20,000 bees – did not survive winter and spring.

The BBKA is concerned there is nothing to stop a repeat of last year’s losses, leading to a further reduction in the insects, vital for pollinating agricultural plants and wild flowers.

Ivor Davies, past-president of the association, said: “Over the last five or 10 years, the number of bees dying every winter has increased. There is something going on we do not understand. What we are asking for is for the Government to put more money into research.”

Mr Davies added the Government funded beekeepers to the tune of £1.5?million a year, but £1.3 million went into inspecting hives leaving only £200,000 for research into bee health.

Beekeeper Alan Taylor, a member of the Solihull branch of the Warwickshire Beekeepers’ Association, said he had been affected.

“One of the reasons we have had such a bad year is because we have had a bad summer,” he said. “My honey drops have been dramatically reduced. I have got 25 per cent of what I expected. Instead of £2,000, I had £500. One of the big problems I had was last summer was bad as well.”

UK beehives have been hit by the varroa mite, which weakens colonies and makes them more vulnerable to disease, on top of which bees have suffered from wet summers. This year’s losses could cost £54 million, it said.

National Farmers’ Union vice president Paul Temple said: “Honey bees are an underpinning component of the British countryside – whether it’s heather moorland, an orchard or a field of beans.”