A community has raised £16,000 amid Covid uncertainty to help an elderly beekeeper - after his rare hives was destroyed by vandals, write Tom Seaward and Jonathan Coles.

Ron Hoskins, 88, discovered a blaze had ruined his hives, sheds, greenhouses and equipment of his apiary - 20 years in the making.

Police are currently treating the fire which is thought to have caused up to £30,000-worth of damage as suspected arson.

Shocking pictures show the extent of the harm caused in Stanton Country Park near Swindon.

The callous criminals are even thought to have taken a brand new lawnmower and chucked it onto the fire.

Expert apiarist Ron has spent more than two decades researching and selectively breeding bees that are able to cope with destructive mites.

The pests - known as Varroa - kill millions of the flying insects worldwide - although not his "super-bees".

But Ron has now been left wondering if he "should even bother anymore" after discovering the upsetting scene on Tuesday.

He said: "It's obvious they were encouraging it. There's nothing left.

"There's just nothing we can recover. We don't know who did it, but we were told by somebody who was walking past there late on Monday afternoon.

"They said there was a number of youths who were hanging around not too far from our apiaries."

Ron is now asking parents to come forward if they suspect their children had a hand in the blaze.

He said: "These boys, whoever they are, must have smelled of smoke. The amount of damage that's been caused - that was one devil of a fire.

"They must have been covered in ash. They couldn't have come away from that without signs of what they had been doing.

"All the gear I used to create that bee - and after 24 years doing it - that's all gone. To try to replace it is going to be upwards of £30,000.

"I'll be 89 in April and I don't know if I should even bother anymore.

"They pushed the hives over. I'm hoping they got stung."

However, Ron's spirits have been lifted in recent days after a GoFundMe page was launched by a local journalist to help cover the costs.

It has already more than trebled its goal of £5,000 - topping £16,000 earlier today (Thurs).

His son Dave Hoskins, 64, said: "Somebody texted my wife and told me a GoFundMe page had been opened.

"The money that's raised I can draw out and give to Dad.

"The contributions have lifted him up so much - we can't believe it. We thought it would just get to £1,000 or something like that. It's crazy.

"People are worried about their jobs and their own money at the moment - but it's been coming in from all over the world."

A spokeswoman for Wiltshire Police confirmed the force was treating the attack as arson.

She said: "Thankfully nobody was injured, but unfortunately damage was caused to sheds and a greenhouse at a beekeeping site.

"At this stage we believe the fire was started deliberately and would ask anyone with information to call us on 101."

The GoFundMe page can be found online.

Any other donations to help cover the cost of replacing lost equipment should be made to the Swindon Honeybee Conservation Group.