Press release

400 teachers for amateur beekeepers

Britain’s backyard beekeepers are to be helped to avoid the problem of winter bee deaths by 400 Government-backed volunteer teachers.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Soaring numbers of people are taking up the hobby amid concern over honey bee decline. But due to challenges from pests and diseases, inexperienced beekeepers are losing more colonies over winter, so better skills are needed.

400 experts across England and Wales are to be trained to teach beekeepers good husbandry as part of a new project under the Government’s Healthy Bees Plan. It will be run in partnership by the British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) and National Diploma of Beekeeping Board (NDBB), and jointly funded by Defra.

The partnership’s new “Course in a Case”, full of training materials, will be delivered through local beekeeping associations. Beekeepers will be trained in groups by the new teachers alongside government bee inspectors, who already offer advice to beekeepers on pests and diseases.

Environment Minister Lord Henley said:

“Bees are essential to putting food on our table and worth £200m to Britain every year through pollinating our crops. This training will help the many new beekeepers keep their hives healthy and bees buzzing.”

BBKA President Martin Smith said:

“We are delighted to be joining forces with the Government to improve the education of the dramatically increasing numbers of new beekeepers.

“We look forward to working with the National Bee Unit to ensure that the band of new trainers have the high quality teaching materials they need to be a viable support to our local associations whose teaching and mentoring resources have become strained to breaking point.”

The National Bee Unit (NBU), where Government inspectors are based, has found that in 2008/9 14 per cent of colonies died over winter and in 2009/10 16 per cent died.

The NBU has issued top tips on often-overlooked key autumn jobs. These include checking hives for disease, treating mites and leaving enough honey for food during the cold months.

Head of the NBU, Mike Brown, said:

“More and more people are starting beekeeping, which is brilliant - it is a release from the pressures of modern life and helps the environment. But it should not be taken lightly, and it’s best to find a mentor with practical experience as well as getting advice from us.


  1. The Healthy Bees Plan was developed by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government with beekeeping stakeholders and aims to protect and improve the health of honey bees over the next ten years.  It is being implemented by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in partnership with beekeeping associations. A key priority of the Plan, as agreed by the Plan’s Project Management Board which is chaired by Fera and oversees implementation, is to improve beekeepers’ skills in caring for, and managing their bees (ie, their husbandry skills) through education and training. 
  2. Defra’s contract on a cost-sharing basis with the British Beekeepers’ Association (BBKA) working alongside the National Diploma in Beekeeping Board (NDBB), is to: * deliver training materials and trainers accessible, user-relevant training courses and materials covering bee husbandry and disease recognition and control; * deliver quality trainers to deliver training to beekeepers at various levels of proficiency using the new materials from 2011; and * develop and deliver in depth topic specific training courses for beekeeper trainers to ensure that trainers are more than one step ahead of their students (this work will be done by National Diploma in Beekeeping).
  3. Total project costs are £310,000 including Defra’s contract of £191,440 (plus VAT) up to the end of March 2011, £90,000 from the BBKA and £30,000 from the NDBB.
  4. The aim is for 400 part-time  volunteer trainers to be  trained in skills  to deliver courses to beekeepers across the BBKA’s 160 local beekeeping associations and to other local associations.
  5. The National Bee Unit (NBU), part of the Food and Environment Research Agency, will be working with the BBKA and the NDBB on preparing the new materials and training the trainers. It delivers the Government’s bee health programme which also includes a comprehensive training and advice service for beekeepers. A recent social science study said “The NBU is seen is an important source of very beneficial ongoing training.’‘  More information about the NBU can be found on the ‘BeeBase’ website
  6. Leeds beekeeper, Bill Cadmore has been appointed by the BBKA as their national organiser for this education project. His role will be to develop and organise events for training beekeeping tutors, using  a variety of resources, including the  BBKA Course in a Case, a six-level** **competency model resource, material produced by  Fera, the NDB and the use of education professionals. Mr Cadmore is an active beekeeper, is active in education in his local beekeeping groups and  has over 30 years of secondary teaching experience and as a Vocational Training assessor. For more information contact the British Beekeepers’ Association
  7. The Course in the Case concept was devised by the BBKA following an Education and Training Forum held in October 2009. The first Beginners Case was produced  and funded by the BBKA; the Case for  Novices and the theory and practical cases for Intermediate beekeepers are being part-funded by this project.
  8. A recent study into how Government can engage better with beekeepers found there were twice as many men involved than women, with two thirds aged over 50. Most kept bees as a hobby, and newcomers were twice as likely to be motivated by concern over declining numbers. The study concluded that better husbandry training and advice would greatly improve success.

Beekeeping top tips

  • Over winter honey bees need plenty of food and safe, healthy conditions. In summer they gather nectar from flowers, and the resulting honey is fed to their young or stored in the hive as food. The average colony needs about 20 kg to survive the winter, so beekeepers must leave some behind after their last crop.
  • Beekeepers may also need to feed their bees with sugar syrup to keep them going through a particularly cold spell or a long, drawn out winter like this year.
  • Good beekeepers will check hives for pests and diseases throughout the year, but it’s even more important now as autumn arrives because the bees stop flying and huddle together in the hive for warmth. Pests or diseases spread much quicker in these tight groups, and could lead to major colony losses.
  • The ‘blood-sucking’ Varroa mite is the scourge of beekeepers across the UK. It weakens bees and their brood, and is the source of many serious bee viruses. Beekeepers need to monitor the number of mites in their hives, applying treatment to eradicate them if possible.
  • Other important jobs for early autumn include making sure that hives are waterproof, well ventilated and secure from attack by mice and woodpeckers. It is also important to check the health of the Queen - to stay productive honey-producing colonies should be headed by queens no more than two years old.
Published 7 October 2010