Tag Archives: SHB

Asian hornet in the UK

The National Bee Unit has confirmed the discovery and identification of an Asian hornet in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. The press release has further details.

Asian hornet

Asian hornet …

These hornets are smaller and darker than the European hornet. Note in particular how dark the abdomen is, with only the fourth segment predominantly yellow (in contrast with our European hornet where at least half of the abdomen is yellow). The National Bee Unit has a very useful guide to identifying the Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) and distinguishing it from the European hornet (Vespa crabro).

Inevitably there’s going to be a lot of statements about “the end of beekeeping as we know it” and speculation of the impact it will really have on our colonies. Time will tell whether it’s been identified early enough to eradicate, how it arrived in deepest Gloucestershire and where it came from.

The Asian hornet has been established and spread widely in France since inadvertent importation in 2004 from China. It was discovered in the Channel Islands earlier this summer. It’s arrival on the mainland was expected, but is nevertheless disappointing.

2015 in retrospect

The winter solstice seems like a good time to look back over the 2015 beekeeping year. With the day length about to start increasing, what went right and what went wrong? Back in March I wrote that my plans for the year were different from the usual OSR – swarming – queen rearing – summer flow – harvest – Varroa treatment – feed-’em-up and forget ’em routine as I was moving to Scotland in the middle of the season. Some of these things happened, though perhaps less than in a usual year.

Mid-season memories

Mid-season memories …

Spring – better late than never

Cloak board ...

Cloake board …

The OSR yielded poorly as the spring was cold and late. I didn’t even look inside a colony until mid-April. Colonies were only getting strong as the OSR flowers went over meaning that most of it was missed. The weather was unseasonably cold, with mid-May being 2-3ºC cooler than average. Queen rearing started in the third week of May and although grafting went well, queen mating was really hit and miss, with low temperatures and lots of rain lasting through May and June. On a more positive note, I used a Cloake board for the first time and was pleased with the results (I’ll write about this sometime in 2016 after using it a bit more). I didn’t use any mini-nucs this year as I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with them mid-season when moving North. Instead, I did all of my queen mating in 2-5 frame nucs, often produced as circle splits from the cell-raising colonies. This worked well … and considering the lousy weather was probably a lot less effort than using mini-nucs which would have required constant attention and lots of feeding. Using poly-nucs I could prime them with a frame of brood and a frame of stores and adhering bees, dummy them down and leave 3 frames of foundation (or wherever possible, drawn comb) ready to be used on the other side of the dummy board. Once the queen was mated the colony would build up well and if – as often happened this season – the queen failed to get mated or was lost (drowned?) during mating flights it was easy to unite the queenless unit with a queenright one, so not wasting any resources.

Go forth and multiply

Split board

Split board …

Beginners often find the coordination of colonies for queen rearing, and the apparent difficulty of grafting (it isn’t), a daunting prospect. When I’ve been involved in teaching queen rearing it’s clear that the relatively small scale approach I use (queenright cell raiser, grafting and – usually – mini-nucs) is often still too involved for the very small numbers of queens most beekeepers with just a couple of hives want. It was therefore interesting to raise a few queens using vertical splits, simply by dividing a strong colony vertically and letting the bees do all the work of selecting the best larvae, raising the queen and getting her mated. It has the advantage of needing almost no additional equipment and only requires a single manipulation of the hive (and even that can probably be simplified). Having documented the process this season I’ve got a few additional things I’d like to try in 2016 to make it even easier and to allow better stock selection. After that it will be incorporated into queen rearing talks and training.

Changes in Varroa treatment

The big change in Varroa treatment in the UK was the licensing of Api-Bioxal. Whether or not you consider the 50-fold or more cost of VMD-approved oxalic acid (OA) over the generic powder is justified is really a separate issue. Oxalic acid is an effective miticide and, if administered appropriately, is very well tolerated by the colony. Despite the eyewatering markup, Api-Bioxal is significantly less expensive than all other approved miticides. For the small scale beekeeper it’s probably only 20% the cost of the – often ineffective – Apistan, or either Apiguard or MAQS. Under certain circumstances – resistant mites, low temperatures or the potential for queen loss – there are compelling reasons why OA is preferable to these treatments. If we hadn’t been using OA for years the online forums would be full of beekeepers praising the aggressive pricing strategy of Chemicals Liaf s.p.a in undercutting the competition. Of course, if we hadn’t been using generic OA for years Api-Bioxal would probably be priced similarly to Apiguard 🙁

Sublimox in use

Sublimox in use …

I’ve used OA sublimation throughout 2015 and been extremely impressed with how effective it has been. Mite drops in colonies treated early in the season remained low, but increased significantly in adjacent colonies that were not treated. I treated all swarms caught or attracted to bait hives. Some were casts and there were no problems with the queen getting out and mated (though the numbers of these were small, so statistically irrelevant). Late season treatment of colonies with brood also seems to have worked well. Mite drops were low to non-existent in most colonies being monitored through late autumn. Colonies get mildly agitated during treatment with a few bees flying about under the perspex crownboard (you can see a couple in the image above … this was a busy colony) and a few more rapidly exiting the hive after the entrance block is removed. But that’s it. The colony settles within a very short time. I’ve seen no loss of brood, no obvious interruption of laying by the queen and no long-term detrimental effects. Sublimation or vaporisation of OA can – with the correct equipment – be achieved without opening the hive. I expect to use this approach almost exclusively in the future.

Moving bees

Moving colonies from the Midlands to Fife was very straightforward. Insect netting was an inexpensive alternative to building large numbers of travel screens. It’s the same stuff as Thorne’s sell for harvesting propolis so I’ve got enough now to go into large scale propolis production 😉 The colonies all settled in their temporary apiaries well and I even managed a few supers of honey during the latter part of the season.

Small hive beetle reappeared in Southern Italy shortly after the honey harvest was completed there. Che sorpresa. This was disappointing but not unexpected (and actually predicted by some epidemiologists). As I write these notes the beetle had been found in 29 Calabrian apiaries between mid-september and early December. It’s notable that there’s now a defeatist attitude by some contributors to the online forums (when not if the beetle arrives here) and – since not everyone are what they seem on the interweb – there are some playing down the likely impact of the beetles’ arrival (and hence the demand to ban imports) because they have a vested interest in selling early season queens or nucs, either shipped in or headed by imported queens. I don’t think there’s any sensible disagreement that we would be better off – from a beekeeping perspective – without the beetle, it’s just that banning imports of bees to the UK (admittedly only a partial solution) is likely to cause problems for many beekeepers, not just those with direct commercial interests. I remain convinced that, with suitable training and a little effort, UK beekeeping could be far less dependent on imports … and so less at risk from the pathogens, like small hive beetle. Or of course a host of un-tested for viruses, that are imported with them.

And on a brighter note …

Bee shed ...

Bee shed …

The new development in the latter part of the year was the setting up of a bee shed to house a few colonies for research. This is now more or less completed and the bees installed. It will be interesting to see how the colonies come through the winter and build up in spring. The apiary has colonies headed by sister queens both in and outside the bee shed so I’ll be able to make some very unscientific comparisons of performance. The only problem I’ve so far encountered with the shed was during the winter mite treatment by oxalic acid vaporisation. In the open apiary the small amount of vapour that escapes the sealed hive drifts away on the breeze. In the shed it builds up into a dense acidic hazy smoke that forced me to make a rapid exit. I was wearing all-encompassing goggles and a safety mask so suffered no ill effects but I’ll need an alternative strategy for the future.

Due to work commitments, house, office and lab moves, things were a lot quieter on the DIY front this year. The Correx roofs have been excellent – the oldest were built over a year ago and are looking as good (or as bad, depending on your viewpoint) as they did then. They’ve doubled up as trays to carry dripping supers back from the apiary and I’ll be making more to cover stacks of stored equipment in the future. Correx offcuts were pressed into service as floors on bait hives, all of which were successful.

With well-fed colonies, low mite counts, secure apiaries and lots of plans for 2016 it’s time to make another batch of honey fudge, to nervously (it’s got hints of an industrial cleaning solution) try a glass of mead and to finish labelling jarred honey for friends and family.

Happy Christmas

Lomond Hills and OSR

Lomond Hills and OSR

Small Hive Beetle update

Disappointingly, but not altogether surprisingly, small hive beetle (SHB) has reappeared in Southern Italy again.

Just when you thought it was safe to import bees again

Just when you thought it was safe to import bees again

History

The beetle was first detected in mid-September 2014 in the Calabria region. The following couple of months saw a further 60 reported infested apiaries in Calabria and neighbouring regions, with a single apiary in Sicily – containing migratory hives – in which the beetle was also detected. The Italian authorities surveyed over 1200 apiaries during the last four months of 2014 with over 3200 hives in infested apiaries being destroyed. Beekeepers were compensated, but this must have been devastating for those involved.

Then everything went quiet … Spring testing (March to May), which involved both a national surveillance programme and specific activity – including sentinel nucs – in Calabria and Sicily, didn’t detect any infested apiaries.

September 2015

www_izsvenezie_it_documenti_temi_api_aethina-thumida_2015_situazione-epidemiologica_figura-1-zona-protezione-calabria_pdf

SHB 2015 Calabria

In mid-September this year (English link in the top right corner of page) an apiary was discovered with hives containing both larvae and adult beetles. At the time of writing (23/8/15) a further 16 infested apiaries have subsequently been discovered, all within the western part of Calabria (PDF map of the current situation) in the ‘toe’ of Italy. This is a disappointing development as it suggests strongly that the beetle remains well established in Italy and that eradication was not achieved.

An alternative suggestion – promoted by the Federazione Apicoltori Italiani (FAI) – is that this new detection represents a re-introduction of the beetle to Italy. This seems a bit far fetched … the infested apiaries are some distance from the coastal ports or large cargo airports but are instead slap-bang in the middle of the area with the largest number of infested apiaries in 2014. If it walks like a duck etc.

Unlike Varroa the beetle isn’t restricted to honeybee colonies. It can fly long distances (kilometres) and, although the larvae feed on pollen, brood and honey in the hive, they pupate outside the hive buried 10-20cm deep in soil and have been known to crawl 200m in search of suitable soil in which to pupate. Presumably the reappearance of the beetle in Italy is either due to low level infestations being missed or to beetles emerging after pupation and re-infesting colonies. Or both.

Is eradication possible?

Probably not. I commented in a posting last November that:

“Once here it is unlikely that we will be able to eradicate SHB. The USA failed, Hawaii failed, Australia failed, Canada failed and it looks almost certain that Italy has failed.”

Indeed, the only time I’m aware that ‘eradication’ was achieved was when the beetle was introduced in an illegal shipment from queens to a single apiary in the UK. In addition to destroying the colonies, the ground was ploughed up, soil removed and the area drenched in insecticide1. I’m not aware in this case whether the beetles had even become established after introduction. In contrast, by the end of 2014 the beetle was widely distributed and well established and it is therefore not surprising, despite the concerted efforts of the Italian authorities, that they have failed to eradicate the beetle.

The National Bee Unit also consider that eradication is almost certainly impossible. In their excellent guide to the beetle (PDF), under the heading “Could we eradicate the Small Hive beetle from the UK?” they state:

“Probably not. Unless the Small hive beetle is detected very soon after its arrival, it will rapidly spread into the surrounding honey bee population, making eradication very difficult. A major limiting factor to eradication would be the unknown distribution of managed bee hives and the potential for populations of the beetle to survive in wild hosts (eg. feral bees and bumble bees).”

So what can be done?

In time-honoured EU tradition an export ban on the affected region had been imposed, but it’s seemingly difficult – if not impossible – to impose an import ban to protect our bees and beekeeping. My concern is that nucs or packages imported to the UK from a region not currently under an EU-imposed movement ban might introduce the beetle into this country. The original movement ban on Calabria and Sicily (actually, not on the entire areas, but instead lying within a 20km radius from the known infested apiaries) was due to end in November 2015. Had the beetle not been detected it would have been at least theoretically possible to import bees from these regions, either directly or indirectly, for the start of the 2016 season. Presumably the movement ban will be extended in light of the failure to eradicate.

It’s also worth noting that only about 10% of imports are checked as they come into the UK and that the volume of illegal imports is not known.

There’s already discussion on the various beekeeping web forums about “when, not if, the beetle arrives” and that UK beekeepers will “cope with it”, just as they’ve coped with Varroa*. There’s a sort of resigned acceptance that, sooner or later, SHB will arrive. If it does, I expect we’ll attempt eradication by destroying colonies in infested apiaries. Again, devastating for the beekeepers involved …

* This is a pretty weak statement in my view … although we do cope with Varroa I’m sure the vast majority of beekeepers would much prefer to not have to deal with the mite.

In the meantime, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the chances of the beetle arriving in the UK, or make us better prepared should it arrive. These include:

  1. Registering your apiaries on Beebase. The National Bee Unit will then both keep you informed of developments and know where colonies are should there be an outbreak and the regional inspector needs to check them.
  2. Plan to become self-sufficient as a beekeeper … perhaps forego a little honey by preparing an additional nuc to overwinter for security, learn how to raise queens or – if you do already – raise a couple of additional queens.
  3. Buy local bees or queens if you need to buy any. Sell your own surplus locally.
  4. Encourage your association to become self-sufficient for bees and queens – establish a queen rearing group, or guarantee all those attending a beekeeping winter training course will be provided with a locally raised nuc for the following season.
  5. Don’t buy imported queens or bees and discourage others from doing the same, for example by not allowing imported stocks in association apiaries.
Locally raised queen

Locally raised queen

Obviously points 2-4 are all aimed at avoiding the need to import bees or queens. This is because the most likely route by which SHB will get to the UK is in imported nucs, packages, queens or other beekeeping materials (e.g. wax). Don’t believe some of the nonsense about ‘pupae in contaminated soil’ as the most likely route … the NBU have conducted a thorough risk assessment (PDF) and by far and away the most probable route the beetle will gain access to the UK is with bees or beekeeping (hive) products. Where known, this is how it got into all other countries that currently have the beetle.

Is there any good news?

Not about small hive beetle I’m afraid. Other than it’s not here … yet.

However, taking some of the steps listed above will both improve your beekeeping skills and provide lots of enjoyment. Queen rearing can be incredibly simple … you can modify a straightforward vertical split to generate a number of queen cells and divide these with some frames of bees and stores into nucs. No grafting, no handling anything smaller than a brood frame and no need to find the queen more than once. Simple, satisfying and self-sufficient …

STOP PRESS

Michael Palmer started a discussion on the Beesource forum with the prophetic words “The UK will soon have Small Hive Beetles in their area” helpfully requesting comparisons in climate between US locations that find the beetle a nuisance and those that do not. It’s worth watching. Clearly climate is only part of the equation … soil type – and temperature (as pointed out by knowledgeable contributors to the BKF thread on this) also has a significant influence, with the beetle preferring light and/or sandy soils to pupate in.

But all this would be irrelevant if we manage to keep the beetle out of the UK …

Bibliography

1.Murilhas, A (2005) Aethina tumida arrives in Portugal. Will it be eradicated? EurBee Newsletter: 7‑9.

Wake up and smell the coffee

The BBKA’s Worker Bee newsletter last week makes a brief reference to the health risks to UK beekeeping associated with importing bees infested with Small Hive Beetle (SHB) …

Worker Bee statement on SHB

Worker Bee statement on SHB

… a very brief reference. It’s particularly disappointing that they don’t even take the opportunity to emphasise their opposition to honeybee imports. This newsletter will have been distributed to the recently signed-up trainee beekeepers who have taken courses in the 2014/15 winter. These new beekeepers, quite understandably, want their own bees as soon as possible and may buy imports, perhaps unknowingly.

I have written extensively on the risk posed to beekeepers from the importation of SHB and the damage I think cheap imports do to the quality of UK beekeeping. If you’re a beginner reading this please try and source a local raised nuc, even if it means you have to wait a couple more weeks for bees. Ask the following simple questions:

  • do you know where the nuc originated from? Many nucs are exported from Southern Italy to France for subsequent selling-on.
  • wouldn’t you prefer bees adapted to the local conditions in your area? You’re also more likely to get advice and support from a local beekeeper you buy a nuc from.
  • do you really need bees in late March/early April? It’s often too cold to inspect them properly and a nuc acquired in mid/late May will build up just as well and may even give you honey from the summer nectar flow.

SHB has never been eradicated from any country it has been imported to. Where known, importation has previously occurred with queens, bees or bee-related products and equipment. The National Bee Unit reviewed the most likely route of importation to the UK and reported that – big surprise – it is with queens, bees or bee-related products and equipment.

Buy local bees … please!

 

Time to ban bee imports?

Small Hive Beetle

Small Hive Beetle

The West Sussex Beekeepers Association have proposed the following motion to the BBKA Annual Delegates Meeting (ADM) in January “Following the discovery of Small Hive Beetle, Aethina tumida, (SHB) in Italy in September 2014 this ADM instructs BBKA to urgently seek a ban on the importation of bees and unprocessed bee products into the U.K”. Further details can be found in their newsletter (under the heading Jim’s Jottings, from the illogically named Jim Norfolk, Chairman of the West Sussex BKA). The full proposition from West Sussex BKA, the supporting notes and the response from the BBKA Executive Committee can be found here on the Beekeeping Forum. The Executive Committee of the BBKA does not support the proposition – as summarised in the sentence “At this point in time the Executive does not consider it appropriate to seek or it be possible to achieve a ban on the importation of honey bees and unprocessed honey bee products and does not support the proposition“.

There is little justification explaining why the BBKA Executive Committee do not consider it appropriate to seek a ban on imports. As explained in a recent post, the National Bee Unit have conducted a risk assessment (in 2009) which concluded that “The pathway likely to present the greatest risk of introduction [of SHB] was the movement and importation of honey bees”.

Time is short … discuss this with your association

Please discuss the potential introduction of SHB and how it might be prevented with your own local association. If you feel strongly about it persuade your delegate at the January BBKA ADM to support the motion proposed by the West Sussex BKA. Remember that the UK imports thousands of queens and bees from Europe every year, many are from Italy, but others are from countries like France that also import thousands of queens and bees from Italy. Do you know where the nuc you or enthusiastic beginners purchased in April/May originated from?

The precautionary principle

The precautionary principle is that there “is a social responsibility to protect the [public or environment] from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result“. There is a plausible risk of SHB entering the UK during the importation of bees. Until evidence is provided to the contrary – presumably by the BBKA and others who do not support a ban on bee imports – the precautionary principle should be applied.

The Native Irish Honey Bee Society has “calling for an immediate ban on imports of honey bees on animal health protection grounds“. Malta has already banned imports from Southern Italy. The Local Association Secretaries of the SBA have discussed the threat of SHB where there was considerable support for the following proposition “The SBA urges that all possible measures are taken to prevent the introduction of small hive beetle into the UK. These should include a cessation of trade in live bees from the rest of Europe for 2015 until the true spread of the pest is better known“. The Welsh BKA are discussing the issue shortly.

Eradication after arrival …

With the exception of the introduction of SHB to Portugal in 2004, no country has managed to eradicate the beetle after it has been introduced. In Portugal the beetle was introduced as larvae with a single shipment of queens (illegally) imported from Texas to a single apiary. All colonies in the apiary were destroyed and the ground was ploughed up and soaked in insecticide. Rather than rely on the contingency plans and sentinel apiaries in the UK to detect the beetle after arrival we should use the age-old doctrine of prevention being better than cure … we should do our best to stop the beetle getting here in the first place.

Other benefits of a ban on imports

Decreased reliance on imported bees and queens is likely to significantly benefit UK beekeeping in the long run. We may have to alter the way we train beginners, we might have to do a lot more autumn requeening, we might have to improve our integrated pest management, we will have to increase local queen rearing activities … however, none of these are insurmountable problems and all are likely to improve the quality of UK beekeeping. Bees and queens might become more expensive, but only until local association queen and nuc rearing activities have geared up to cope with the additional demand. I would think that any increase would be insignificant if compared to the cost of lost colonies should SHB arrive and become established in the UK. I accept that there might be issues for commercial beekeepers, but am unconvinced that a business model that relies upon cheap imports is sustainable in the long-term.

Further details on the biology of Small Hive Beetle can be found in this recent Current Zoology paper (PDF download) written by NBU scientists.

Small Hive Beetle (SHB) and the UK

Small Hive Beetle

Small Hive Beetle

Small hive beetle (SHB; Aethina tumida) is a small, invasive beetle originally from Africa that infests colonies, eating brood, pollen and honey, destroying comb and causing honey to ferment.  Without control, infestation leads to destruction of the colony. SHB is now present globally and, since the 1990’s, has been distributed with bees and bee products (e.g. beeswax) resulting in infestations in the USA and Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica and Cuba. SHB was introduced to Portugal in 2004 (in a consignment of queens from Texas) but very rapidly detected and eradicated. This was the first time SHB was present on mainland Europe … it’s now back.

SHB has been detected in Southern Italy and appears to be well established. The UK imports large numbers of bee packages and queens from Italy. There is a very real threat to UK beekeeping … the summary of an article by the National Bee Unit concluded that “Its arrival in the United Kingdom would pose a significant threat to the long-term sustainability and economic prosperity of beekeeping and, as a consequence, to agriculture and the environment through disruption to pollination services”. My opinion is that the export of bees and queens from Italy should be banned until the extent of infestation is known. In addition, the import of bees and queens to the UK (from all countries, not just Italy) should be banned to reduce the chance of inadvertently acquiring the beetle from a third country.

The impact of SHB and its presence in Italy

In the USA, SHB was first detected in Florida in 1998. Within two years it had resulted in the destruction of 20,000 colonies in the USA. Like Varroa, once established, SHB will probably be impossible to eradicate. The National Bee Unit has produced an excellent (and recently updated) guide to SHB (PDF download) which should be compulsory reading for all beekeepers. It describes the identification of the beetle, the consequences of infestation, the likely impact on UK beekeepers and beekeeping, methods of detection (to be covered in another post) and control.

It appears as though the early infestation in the Calabria region of Southern Italy was overlooked, resulting in the beetle becoming quite widely distributed. The beetle was first detected on the 11th of September 2014, a protection zone (20km) and eradication zone (100km) were established with compulsory colony destruction of infested colonies in the former. Over 1500 colonies have been destroyed, but the protection zone has recently been extended to include much of eastern Sicily. SHB is clearly widespread in Southern Italy and COLOSS – the honeybee research organisation – have recently announced that SHB is in Europe to stay.

Southern Italy has a lot of migratory beekeeping meaning that the beetle is quite possibly even more widespread. Particularly worrying for UK beekeepers is that many bees and queens are imported from Italy, either directly or via a third country. In 2014 over 1200 packages of bees and 1750 batches of queens were imported from Italy, in 27 separate consignments. Only 8 of these consignments were inspected. The total imports from EU countries to the UK in 2014 was much larger, with 1400 packages of bees, 580 nucs and nearly 10,000 queens. Many thousands of queens are exported from Italy to France each year, with some perhaps being used to head the increasing number of French-sourced nucs being imported to the UK each year.

I do not think that UK beekeepers need to import bees or queens from abroad. I suspect that many of the imported queens are used to head early-season nucs being sold to enthusiastic new beekeepers at the beginning of the season, or to beekeepers making up for winter losses. I think the currently popularity of beekeeping, the “pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap” nature of some training courses and, possibly, poor standards of colony preparation for winter and patchy integrated pest management procedures, are the underlying causes for the high demand for early season nucs and queens. I will write separately about this during the winter.

The BBKA have released a statement to the effect that beekeepers should be vigilant, but that the most likely route by which the beetle will be imported is with fruit, vegetables and plant material from the affected area (25th September statement; PDF). There was no suggestion that import of bees from Italy to the UK should be banned. There may be several reasons for this, not least that current EU legislation may not allow such a ban to be imposed. I’m disappointed by failure of the BBKA to take a more aggressive stance to protect UK beekeepers and beekeeping. Although SHB can be transmitted by at least 8 different routes (including flying up to 10km) a published analysis by DEFRA (“Development of an evidence based risk assessment for small hive beetle“)  on the threat from SHB to the UK includes the quote “The pathway likely to present the greatest risk of introduction was the movement and importation of honey bees”. This report was published in 2009.

This situation is developing, but there are only a few months until the new season starts. There are active threads discussing it on the Beekeeping Forum and the – often better informed – SBAi forum. The SBAi forum contains links to a number of maps showing distribution of the beetle in Italy and translations of the pages from reports on Italian beekeeping websites.

What can UK beekeepers and associations do?

Beekeeping associations should discuss their assessment of the risk of SHB to UK beekeeping (as should individuals). Don’t leave this until next season … it may be too late by then. If SHB was to be introduced to the UK I would expect colony destruction to be used as a means of controlling spread, at least initially. Does your association want to risk this? Bee Diseases Insurance (BDI) will cover colony destruction necessitated by the presence of SHB, but the cover is limited to only £50,000 (this is nationally, not per beekeeper). What else could an association do to help prevent SHB changing UK beekeeping?

  • Encourage association member not to import bees or queens. Ideally, don’t import bees or queens at all (do you know where your French-sourced nuc actually originated?) but at the very least don’t import from Italy.
  • Do not allow imported bees to be housed on association apiaries. These often have higher hive densities and so provide ample opportunity for spread. This may also encourage beekeepers to source local bees, rather than having to move from a shared association apiary.
  • Encourage active queen rearers in the association to make queens available to association members who would otherwise purchase imported queens. Allow free adverts in your newsletter? Provide lists of queen and nuc suppliers.
  • Start a queen rearing group so association members become more self-sufficient. Locally bred queens are likely to be better suited to the local conditions, so this makes sense anyway.
  • Encourage beginners on winter beekeeping courses to source local bees from association members rather than purchasing them from an unknown source at the earliest opportunity. They might have to wait a few extra weeks (and I appreciate the urge to get started as soon as possible) but they can get some experience with their mentor during this time and will be much better prepared when the nuc is ready.
  • Overwinter 5 frame nucs for use or sale in the spring. This is too late for this year but requires only a little preparation during the mid/late summer season. This could be done both at the individual and association level … “guaranteeing” local bees for attendees on winter beginners courses.
  • Watch the excellent talk that Michael Palmer gave at the National Honey Show in 2013 on The Sustainable Apiary.
  • Encourage your national beekeeping association (BBKA, SBA, WBKA) to take a pro-active stance to limit the chances of the beetle being imported.
  • Monitor colonies using Correx SHB traps on a regular basis – more on this in a later post.

Once here it is unlikely that we will be able to eradicate SHB. The USA failed, Hawaii failed, Australia failed, Canada failed and it looks almost certain that Italy has failed. 

Further reading

Contingency planning for the Small Hive Beetle – Bee-Craft article from 2012 describing sentinel apiaries, monitoring imports etc.

Beebase (DEFRA) pages on Small Hive Beetle and further notes on contingency planning.