Thousands of bees were brutally burned to death after arsonists attacked a group of hives.
Beekeepers discovered the devastating scene when they went to check on their insects in woods near Hopwood Hall College in Middleton, Greater Manchester.
One hive, which contained thousands of bees, had been completely torched, while another 12 had been ripped out and tossed into a nearby valley.
Beekeepers Jack Turner and Peter Killcommons said they had lost thousands of bees.
The two attempted to scoop up any surviving bees, and tried to patch up the unaffected hives after the horrific attack.
But the fate of thousands of worker bees – which became Manchester’s symbol of defiance in the wake of last May’s terror attack – is dependent on the queen bee.
The keepers still don’t know if she has survived or not. Without a queen, the surviving worker bees may just abandon the hive.
‘There has to be something wrong with a person who sets a bee hive alight,’ Jack said. ‘The amount of damage is unbelievable and we’ve lost a good few thousand bees.
‘We’ve been picking the bees up and putting them in the hives. We just hope we’ve got the queen. The alternative if there’s no queen is for the workers to make a new queen, but it’s too cold for them to do that.’
Peter works closely with Hopwood Hall College teaching beekeeping skills to agriculture students. The bees’ honey is also sold in the campus restaurant.
A college spokesman said: ‘Everybody at Hopwood Hall College is really disappointed to hear what has happened to Peter’s bee hives, he has been an enormous help at the college.
‘After we had an outburst of bee infestations in many of our Middleton campus’ buildings, Peter very generously offered to help solve the problem humanely by moving the bees into hives.
‘Since then, Peter has helped educate staff and students on bee keeping and the benefits they bring to our environment. We’re now looking to help Peter rebuild his bee hives in any way we can.’
The incident has now been reported to Greater Manchester Police.