A BEEKEEPER has been left fuming after his three beehives - containing over 6,000 honey bees - were stolen by sticky-fingered thieves.

Raymond Robinson said he was devastated when he discovered that six years' work with his prized honey bees had gone to waste after they were stolen from Whitehouse Farm Allotments on Grove Road, North Ormesby.

The former steelworker started keeping bees after he took redundancy from the blast furnace at Redcar six years ago.

Along with a friend he had built up the three colonies of honey bees after doing a course on beekeeping and falling in love with the hobby.

The beehives are believed to have been worth about £1,500 altogether and were stolen sometime between last Monday, January 25 and Wednesday, January 27.

The 58-year-old said the gate to the allotments, and to his compound, were left open on Tuesday so he believed a vehicle had been driven in to collect the beehives, which were heavy.

"I think someone has known what they are doing with bees because they are quite dormant at this time of year as it is too cold for them outside," said Mr Robinson.

"I feel absolutely gutted. I just feel drained. I think they have taken a part of my heart away.

"I spent a lot of time down there and especially in the summer time, I could just sit there and watch them.

"People might think I am daft but I just loved beekeeping.

"I didn't know anything about it until I retired but I found out so much about it, a lot of it was self-taught.

"I feel a bit vulnerable getting more in case they get stolen too."

"Bee rustling" has been on the increase in recent years - with the British Beekeepers Association urging beekeepers to get their hives micro-chipped so police can identify them if they are stolen.

The decline in bee populations means they are more valuable than ever before.

Police are appealing for information about the beehives and asked for anyone who has seen them advertised for sale, or anyone who has witnessed the incident, to contact PC Tim Gill on the non-emergency number 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org.