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Bee Health

National Bee Unit publish Contingency Plan

The NBU, in liaison with Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government, has developed contingency plans and surveillance measures to be able to tackle an outbreak. Since 2003, ABIs have been increasing the statutory surveillance programmes to specifically monitor for the beetle and Tropilaelaps mites.

The NBU uses BeeBase linked to Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to help prioritise this programme and target ‘At Risk Apiaries’ (ARAs). For example, apiaries within close proximity to high-risk areas such as ports, freight terminals and container depots are targeted and regularly inspected.

The NBU routinely carries out contingency exercises in a number of regions, held jointly with local beekeepers and associations.

Should Aethina tumida or Tropilaelaps spp. be discovered in England or Wales, emergency measures will be implemented. These will be a rapid assessment of the extent of infestation, followed by eradication or if the beetle is more established by containment and control. The approach taken will depend highly upon the extent of the infestation; if restricted, an eradication method could be used. Otherwise, a containment approach will be implemented. Further details will become available once the contingency plans have been finalised. Similar arrangements will apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Read more on NBU website ...

Read more about diseases and pests of bees...

Click here for Contingency Plan for Exotic Pests and Diseases of Honey Bees

Click here for: Small Hive Beetle - what you need to know

Current thinking holds that bee health is dependent upon a complex interplay of environmental factors.

Like most living creatures bees need air, water, food and shelter for basic survival. They also need to exercise the biological imperatives and pheromone responses that enable their species to function properly and to perpetuate.

Anything which interferes with these elements will affect the bees' wellbeing and health. This might include - the weather, available forage, integrity of the nest site (or hive), genetics, pests, diseases or human interference.

Combinations of these factors are now thought to have more impact on bees' health than any single disease. Examples include - viral infections secondary to Varroa infestation, cross-infection by poor apiary management, succumbing to pathogens when stressed or immune systems weakened as a result of inadequate diet. The multiplicity of problems for bees are yet to be fully researched and understood.

The role of the beekeeper should focus on ensuring the essentials (air, water, food, shelter) are adequately provisioned and that interference is kept to a minimum. Detrimental human interference might include - overly frequent hive inspections, rough handling, taking too much honey, inappropriate treatments (eg prophylactic antibiotics), cross-infection, poor land management and inappropriate use of insecticides. Lack of intervention can be equally detrimental; for example, failure to - isolate disease adequately, feed when needed, maintain hives properly, provide protection against pests.

Careful observation can reveal much about the health of the colony. Correctly informed observation will help determine whether intervention is appropriate (or desirable). We cannot control the weather, but we can apply a programme of integrated pest management to minimise the risks of disease.

Bee health is also vital for our health. We are dependent upon their activities as pollinators of our crops. There is little dispute that our over-exploitation of the environment and the honeybee has had an adverse effect on bee populations. Much of this was done in ignorance. Now we know better, we must rise to the challenge and redouble our efforts to maintain and improve the health of bees - it is in our interest to do so.

Healthy bees require a varied diet across the whole season.

What can we do?

Ensure we are properly informed:

  • For beeekeeping beginners - see Getting Started
  • Read as much as possible - use your Branch Library, get some of your own Beekeeping Books, read some of the Magazines or Journals
  • Know what to look for with Bee Diseases
  • Attend the free lectures and meetings - see Events

Implement sound apiary hygiene:

  • Choose an apiary site which has a sunny aspect, airy and secure.
  • Keep your hives on stands (off the damp ground at a workable height).
  • Do not leave combs lying around the apiary.

  • Change frames on a regular basis. Don’t use second-hand frames from other apiaries.
  • Keep your bee suit and gloves clean. Clean hive tools and smoker with strong solution of washing soda. Perhaps use industrial marigolds rather than soft leather gloves.
  • Consider using local queens of known provenance, rather than unknown queens from abroad.
  • Beware of any second-hand hive equipment containing spores of disease.

Regularly observe your hives and keep good records

  • Keep a diary, or better still, use Hive Record Sheets:

Plant 'bee-friendly' plants

  • See Bee plants page
  • Ask your local council to add these types of plants to parks and public amenity spaces
  • Ask the Highways Agency in your area to consider adding more wildflowers to verges
  • Do what you can to improve bee forage and biodiversity to your garden (don't forget habitat as well).

Be careful not to harm your bees

  • Keep interference to a minimum - only enter the hive for a specific reason, and not just curiosity
  • Avoid using unnecessary harmful chemicals in the hive or on the land
  • Ensure they have adequate pest protection and disease control and keep your equipment clean, wash bee suit
  • Check they have adequate supplies in late winter/early spring.
  • Never feed imported honey and ideally only your own honey when you have to. Never feed bees honey even your own, if there is a chance it came from a diseased colony; for instance one that died out leaving stores.

Bee health

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs runs a programme dedicated to Bee Health


Contact Bee health at the Food and Environment Research Agency


The National Bee Unit (NBU) delivers the Bee Health programmes for defra


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