Beekeepers and experts believe increased regulation, particularly of pesticides and imports, is crucial to address declining pollinator populations and safeguard the industry.

“There are overriding legal obligations but when you see the situation on the ground, everyone is left to their own devices,” said Brian Restall, an academic and beekeeper. “There is an urgent need for a coherent pollinators action plan.”

Bees and other pollinating species are responsible for around 15 per cent of Malta’s total agricultural produce but have been in decline for years. Some experts estimate there are now 60 per cent fewer bee colonies in Malta than there were just 20 years ago.

Mr Restall pointed to the need of additional “buffer zones” around agricultural land to allow pollinators to thrive. Such pollinator areas would be supported by legislation ensuring they were free from pesticides and with enough wild flowers to allow bees to feed.

Environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino, however, said that without drastically cutting down on pesticides, such measures were unlikely to succeed. “Indiscriminate spraying, including by the government and local councils, is destroying entire ecosystems,” Mr Baldacchino said. “It has to be controlled; beekeepers are constantly protesting but nothing is being done.”

Beekeepers are constantly protesting but nothing is being done

Widespread landscaping, according to Mr Baldacchino, is further contributing to the problem by not giving enough consideration to the use of indigenous trees and flowers on which bees can feed over foreign species.

“Mepa has specific policies to protect many endemic animals but not bees,” Malta Beekeepers Association president Stephen Galea said. “We urgently need to protect Maltese bees from large-scale importation of foreign species, which can pose a very serious threat.”

Particular concerns were raised last January when a large number of Italian and French bees were imported for a new venture in Gozo, which bee­keepers feared could prompt aggressive interbreeding that would put Maltese species at risk.

Moreover, while imports from Sicily are now suspended due to an infestation of the dangerous hive beetle, which has wiped out colonies overseas, experts who spoke to this newspaper said enforcement of the ban was largely ineffective.

Mr Galea said the government was working on new legislation aimed at protecting bees as well as on regulations dealing with honey, which had proven to be another contentious issue due to lax labelling standards.

Experts say the islands would need to triple in size if all the honey claiming to be from Malta and Gozo were actually to be produced locally.

“Foreign-produced honey and products like pollen grains are routinely misrepresented as local,” Mr Baldacchino said.

“Different departments are allowing it to happen by shrugging off responsibility.”

Questions sent to the government on the proposed regulations were still not answered at the time of writing.

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