Guidance

Protecting honey bees

Where to find advice on beekeeping and protecting your honey bees from diseases and pests.

Honey bees are vital to the UK’s food and crop production and the natural environment. Maintaining the health of our honey bee population is therefore a key priority for the government.

National Bee Unit

The National Bee Unit (NBU), part of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), is responsible for running the bee health programme for England and Wales. The NBU supports the beekeeping industry by inspecting apiaries (a collection of hives) for key pests and diseases and training beekeepers on how to keep their hives healthy.

The NBU also addresses threats to UK bees and apiculture by controlling outbreaks of diseases like the bacterial foulbroods and surveying for new threats currently absent from the UK, such as the Small hive beetle. Working with the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS), the NBU also helps to analyse the causes of suspected bee poisoning incidents.

Get advice on beekeeping

You can find advice on beekeeping on BeeBase, the NBU’s online database.

If you register your details on BeeBase, you can access free NBU services such as eLearning, email updates on current beekeeping issues, and disease alerts.

Beekeepers can help the NBU to monitor and control pests and diseases and provide relevant information (such as local disease information) by keeping BeeBase records up to date and recording sales and colony movements between apiaries.

Controlling bee pests and disease

Report suspect bee diseases or pests

If you are a beekeeper in England and Wales, and you find signs of a notifiable bee disease or pest in your colony, you must contact your regional bee inspector or the NBU and request an inspection of your bees.

Failure to do this is an offence under the Bee Diseases and Pest Control Order 2006 with fines set on a case-by-case basis.

Elsewhere in the UK, you must contact the local office of the relevant government department.

The two notifiable bee pests are:

The two notifiable bee diseases are:

If one of these pests or diseases is found in your colony, the apiary will be put under a Standstill Notice until it is cleared of the pest or disease. The Inspector will provide you with more information about what you need to do.

See BeeBase for information (and images) on bee pests and diseases and common disorders.

Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)

Vespa velutina, or the yellow legged hornet, is a predator of honey bees. It was accidentally introduced from Asia into France in 2004. It has not yet been found in the UK but has spread to many other European countries, causing significant damage to domestic honey bee colonies. Although it is not a statutory notifiable pest, you should report any sightings of this pest via the Non-Native Species Secretariat website or by email: alertnonnative@ceh.ac.uk.

Varroa mite

Varroa, a parasitic mite, is a common pest of honey bees in England and Wales. It is a main contributor to the poor health of honey bee colonies and if left uncontrolled, can cause the collapse of colonies within a few weeks.

There are effective methods for its control - see Beebase for advice.

Pesticide treatments for Varroa

To treat against Varroa, you can use approved varroacides listed in the Veterinary Medicine Directorate’s Product Database.

Where there is no suitable veterinary medicine authorised in the UK, treatments can be prescribed on the ‘Cascade’ system. You can get further information on prescribing unauthorised medicines from the Veterinary Medicine Directorate.

Ensuring varroacides are effective and using Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

The Varroa mite can develop resistance to pyrethroids, the active ingredients of some widely used varroacides.

To minimise the chance of a treatment becoming ineffective beekeepers should:

  • treat with the specified dose (always follow the label)
  • treat for the time period specified
  • treat as little as necessary
  • alternate between unrelated treatments and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods
  • use a floor insert to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment in the colony (mite drop)

Integrated Pest Management, outlined in the EU’s Sustainable Use Directive, seeks to control pests and diseases with more targeted treatments, focuses on lowering levels of resistance to controls and promotes the use of non-chemical methods where these can provide satisfactory control.

See the managing varroa booklet on Beebase for further information on varroacides, checking for pyrethroid resistance and IPM control methods.

Importing or moving bees into the UK

If you want to import or move bees into the UK, you must follow animal health requirements in line with national and EU law.

See BeeBase for guidance on how to import bees from EU and countries outside the EU, and post-import controls.

Exporting bees to countries within the EU requires the same health certification as EU imports. You should ask your local bee inspector for an inspection to get a health certificate.

Fireblight

If you are planning to transport or send any bees to another EU Member State you need to be aware of controls on the movement of bee hives into EU designated ‘Fireblight Protected Zones’.

Fireblight is a serious bacterial plant disease. To prevent the spread of this disease, restrictions apply to the movement of hives into EU Fireblight Protected Zones between 15 March and 30 June.

Contacts for further information

National Bee Unit

National Bee Unit
Animal and Plant Health Agency
National Agri-Food Innovation Campus
Sand Hutton
York
YO41 1LZ

Email: nbu@apha.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: 0300 3030094
Fax: 01904 462240

Bee health policy helpline

Email: beehealthinfo@defra.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: 0207 238 2017

Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme helpline

Telephone: 0800 321 600

NBU advisory leaflets, training manuals and factsheets