The possibility of the small hive beetle arriving in the UK is a recognised threat to the health of honey bees. To help mitigate this threat, DEFRA has developed a contingency plan in consultation with stakeholders. Additionally, DEFRA is funding research into a “lure and kill” monitoring system for rapid deployment should the beetle be detected. To promote early detection, publicity material has been distributed to help raise individual beekeepers’ awareness of the risk. Plant health import inspectors and horticultural marketing inspectors have also been alerted, as one possible entry pathway is imported fruit. DEFRA is also pressing the European Commission to introduce tighter contingency arrangements to reduce the risk of spread should the beetle be introduced into another member state.
The importance of the contribution of honey bees to sustainable agriculture is well recognised. For this reason, DEFRA continues to fund a programme of controls and education for beekeepers through the National Bee Unit and the Bee Inspectorate. To further this, work DEFRA will shortly be consulting on a draft Bee Health strategy. The main aim of the strategy will be to focus future action by both DEFRA and other key stakeholders, especially individual beekeepers, on the main threats facing our honey bees.
By 1995 virtually all apiaries in England had some degree of varroa infestation. While there may be colonies in isolated areas, which have yet to be infested by varroa, the pest is virtually ubiquitous. Every colony is damaged by varroa to varying degrees once it becomes infested. Uncontrolled it will kill colonies and that is why it is important for beekeepers to understand the biology of the mite, know the levels of varroa populations and how to treat their colonies to keep the mite below damage thresholds.
Despite the implementation of an extensive control programme, varroa is now endemic and is no longer notifiable under EC law. However, while it cannot be completely eradicated, beekeepers can keep productive bees despite its presence, providing they operate effective controls The best way of tackling varroa is by means of a careful programme of integrated pest management and DEFRA has published detailed advice for beekeepers on this. Experience has shown that it is effective.
A comprehensive advisory leaflet is available from the National Bee Unit.
The Bee Health Strategy, which will shortly be published for consultation, will address the issue of varroa and whether control should have greater priority compared, for example, to threats for exotic pests.