HUNDREDS of thousands of bees will have the opportunity to spread their wings at a new apiary in North Lancashire.

Lancaster Beekeepers members have built six colonies in Yealand Conyers as part of a £34,000 project to help the native black honey bee.

Each colony is expected to hold up to 50,000 bees in the summer, and the group hopes to increase the number of colonies this year from six to 15.

On Saturday Martin Smith, British Beekeepers Association president, will officially open the apiary.

Fred Ayres, Lancaster Beekeepers chairman, said: “This is a new venture for us. Our honey bee is an important pollinator and a critical part of food production.

“It is challenged by the changing patterns of agriculture, increased use of pesticides and global disease spread.

“Beekeepers need to know more about how to look after bees better. Having a club apiary will enable us to provide better quality and diverse training for beginners and developing beekeepers. We’re trying to raise the quality of beekeeping and reduce the introduction and spread of diseases and parasites.”

Mr Ayres said the colony being sited away from people will provide more conducive conditions for breeding.

One reason for the falling honey bee population in recent years has been the varroa mite, which decimated populations, with honey bee numbers dropping in Britain by 23 per cent since 1992, according to DEFRA.

But Mr Ayres said the bees appear to be fighting back, with twice as many colonies found in the UK today as there were two years ago.

He said this was due to more media coverage of the honey bees’ plight, which has propelled people into action.

Lancaster Beekeepers is one charity to have benefited from the media exposure, with membership rising from 40 two years ago to 140 today.

The group used to meet in members’ gardens and apiaries to look after the insects, but there are so many people in the group that the base at Yealand Conyers had to be built.

Funding comes from members as well as the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Robert Clutterbuck Charitable Trust and insurance company Naturesave, with discounts on equipment from honey shop Honeycomb Ltd at Pennine Bee farm, Lancaster.

For details of Yealand Conyers bees call Mr Ayres on 01524 811978.