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Colony loss monitoring surveys in Scotland : winter loss rates and the online versus postal approach

Gray, Alison and Peterson, Magnus (2014) Colony loss monitoring surveys in Scotland : winter loss rates and the online versus postal approach. In: Proceedings of the 10th COLOSS Conference, Murcia, Spain, September 2014. COLOSS, Switzerland, p. 25.

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In Scotland we have carried out surveys of beekeepers since 2006, mainly by post. Since 2008 we have used geographically stratified random sampling of the membership records of the Scottish Beekeepers’ Association, excluding those who opted out of surveys, to select the invited participants. In 2013 our survey was conducted online, as far as possible, using the LimeSurvey software (http://www.limesurvey.org/ ) for the first time. This was repeated in 2014. In 2013, 300 participants were selected from 1094 possible participants, of whom 218 (73%) had email contact details. Postal questionnaires were used for the others, those whose email failed or where there were technical problems: 94 questionnaires were posted and 3 sent electronically for postal return. Analysis of the 2012-2013 loss data gave 108 beekeeper respondents with valid loss data, of whom 56.5% experienced winter losses. The overall loss rate was 31.6% (158 colonies lost out of 500 colonies wintered). There were differing winter loss rates of 19.3% for the postal respondents and a much higher 36.6% for the online respondents. This difference is highly significant (Fisher's exact test gives a p-value of 0.0001297). Eleven (50%) of the 22 postal respondents and 50 (58.1%) of the 86 online respondents with valid loss data experienced losses, though this difference was not significant. The profile of the beekeepers differed between the two groups: the postal respondents were typically much more experienced beekeepers than the online respondents. It is therefore important for us to include the postal element for beekeepers not contactable by email, even though the response rate for the online survey was higher (65% online; 36% postal; 55% overall). In the 2014 survey, 350 participants were chosen randomly from 1224 possible participants, 273 (78%) had email contact details, and 95 questionnaires were posted, allowing for 17 failing emails and one person with difficulty accessing the survey. Preliminary results, based on 118 valid responses collected so far in LimeSurvey from beekeepers, are that 41 (34.7%) experienced losses over winter 2013-14, and that the loss rate was 13.2% (74 colonies lost from 560 wintered colonies). The final loss rates including postal responses may be expected to be lower. The 2012-13 winter loss rate of 31.6% was the highest since our surveys began, the next highest being 30.9% over winter 2009-10. It seems likely that the much lower loss rate this last winter can largely be attributed to the different weather conditions.