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This is always a busy time for bees and the last few months seem to have been really busy all round. However the good news is that as the pandemic seems to be taking a back seat we can start reserving front seats.

It is for this reason I am adding a new post to the web site. Two events have been brought to my attention

The National Honey Show 21st to 23rd of October - not just any honey show but the 90th. Things are a bit different this year and only pre-booked tickets will let you into the show. This is an excellent opportunity to meet up with old friends and also new friends. I have had a look at the lecture programme and it looks very interesting. For those who cannot get to the show there will be tickets available to watch all the lectures on line. Who knows what we we will be facing come October but the organisers have confidence and so should we.

Royal Bath and West Show has been cancelled  - but it is not all bad news. In its place there is a Country Festival from Friday 27th - Sunday 29th August. Not only a Country Festival but a Honey Competition so if you have ever thought of entering your honey at the Royal Bath and West Show then now is your chance. Schedule, Regulations  and Entry Form are now live on the Bath and West Show website.

OK so you do not think your honey is good enough - well think again. There are classes for many other products of our bee keeping. You could enter a bottle of Mead or a bottle of Methaglin or even a bottle of Melomel. If that is not something you can turn your hand to then there are photographic class or for the inventors amongst us there is a class for new or innovative equipment.  Download  the schedule and see what you could bring to the show.

To encourage you for this year only there are no entry fees - it does mean there are no cash prizes but there are prize cards and be honest it was always about the taking part rather than the cash prize.  

 

What are we to make of this weather? Last week I was in North Wales freezing cold in the wind and baking in the sun. The only way to stay comfortable was to rotate slowly like meat on a spit - and for a vegetarian that does not come easily!

This week we have more of the same except that as the week progresses the weather, for a time, will get colder. Cold weather means bees have less energy to gather food but the longer days and shelter in the hive mean the Queen could be busy laying. Do check your hives and see that there are enough stores. It may be necessary to top up the reserves.

Another problem with this weather is the lack of rainfall. April has not been a month of showers - in fact some areas have had almost no precipitation all month and what they have had was snow! Bees need water. Make certain that there is water available near the hive. National Bee Supplies do a fancy water trough or you could make your own with a plant pot tray with some pebbles in it and then some means to support a bottle upside down.

Varroa


From the 21st April we, as bee keepers, are required to notify DEFRA if we have varroa in our apiary.  DEFRA see Varroa as a serious threat to bee keeping in this country and now require us to supply information so that they can monitor the problem.
The reporting process is very simple - a tick box on the BeeBase web site. At the moment this is not in place but I expect it to be up by April 21st. For those who resist putting their details on BeeBase there will be an alternative method of notifying the presence of varroa in your apiary.

Beebase
If you are not aware of Beebase then now is the time to become aware of it. It is run by Animal and Plant Health Agency and contains a wealth of information on bee keeping. It is also where you register your apiaries so that the Bee Inspector can keep you informed of problems in your area. It also includes a record keeping section where you can enter your own records of apiary visits.
I know that there are some out there who see any registration of their hobby as an intrusion on their privacy. If the hobby were painting toy soldiers or lace-making I could understand the reluctance to register. In the case of bee keeping it is important to register. If my bees were to get A.F.B. or E.F.B. then I can call on the bee inspector to advise me. If the bee inspectors know of other colonies close by they can easily notify them of the problem. If you are not on BeeBase then the Bee Inspector has no way of contacting you.

And for those of you who do not a varroa mite - this is what it looks like though much enlarged. For more details then do look on BeeBase.

Close Up of Varroa Mite
Close Up of Varroa Mite Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright

Not a nice day out there again today. Certainly not warm enough to be opening up the hive. Anyway it has given me an opportunity to file all the emails or act on them - or even delete them. However amongst the emails I have come across a survey for the government's Healthy Bee Plan. The survey is available on this link and has to be completed by 21st April. It only takes a few minutes to fill in and if we all fill it in then the government will be able to make informed decisions.

In addition I have been looking at the BIBBA lectures on YouTube. Excellent material. If you subscribe then you will receive notifications when there is a new lecture released.

My attention has also been drawn to a calendar of bee events in the UK. This is to be found at bee events.

It seems that the government has had second thoughts. The permission to use neonicotinoids on sugar beet this year has been withdrawn. The official reason is that the recent cold snap has affected the aphids. The number of aphids has fallen below a critical level and as a result the government has decided that neonicotinoids are not to be used this year. It is good to see that government policy is being "driven by the data not the dates."

However it is possible that next year the aphid population may not be affected by the cold and government decisions may not be driven by Honey Bee data. We must, for the sake of the bees and all the other pollinators under threat, make certain that permission to use neonicotinoids is not granted in Spring 2022.

 

Just watched an interesting debate on YouTube between a farmer who feels he has to use neonicotinoids and opponents of the decision.

It was chaired by the Wild Life Trusts. It is a long video, some 100 minutes, so for those who do not have the time to watch it I thought I would summarise the key points I got from it:

  • The sugar beet industry is worth some £208 million per year to Britain
  • Sugar beet plays an important role in the 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 crop rotation.
  • This crop rotation is not allowed under this derogation.
  • It is planted in the spring.
  • It is harvested between October and February.
  • It is harvested before it flowers so is not a source of food for bees.
  • The Beet Yellows Virus is carried by aphids.
  • The Beet Yellows Virus can reduce crop yields by up to 80%
  • The neonicotinoid is applied as a pelleted seed.
  • Protection lasts 10 to 14 weeks whilst the seedling is tender.
  • The neonicotinoid lasts a lot longer in the soil.
  • Warmer winters are resulting in more aphids hence more virus.
  • The UK has tighter restrictions than the EU on the use of Neonicotinoids.
  • We would import sugar beet from Brazil or Australia.
  • Imports may contain pesticides our farmers may not use.
  • Work to produce Beet Yellows Virus resistant strains is ongoing.
  • Use of lace wings to eat the aphids is also being investigated.
  • It is anticipated the aphid load will result in Neonicotinoids being used next year as well.
  • Neonicotinoids were introduced to the UK in 1994 as a seed dressing.
  • LD50 is Lethal dose 50% and is the amount of a pesticide required to kill 50% of the population.
  • This is calculated in laboratory tests
  • The LD50 value for thiamethoxam is 4 billionths of a gram per honey bee.
  • That is one teaspoon (5 grams) will kill 1.25 billion bees
  • That is 125 tons of dead bees or 4 large lorry loads - and all from a teaspoon of pesticide.
  • In the last year before the ban the UK spread 110 tonnes of Neonicotinoids on the land.
  • There is a lot of evidence that sublethal dose of Neonicotinoids severely affects insects.
    • A sublethal dose can affect their navigation system
    • A sublethal dose can damage their immune system.
  • It is a systemic insecticide so it is taken up by the whole plant- leaves, flowers, pollen, nectar, fruit.
  • If spread on pelleted seeds only 5% is taken up by that plant.
  • 95% remains in the soil or washed into streams and aquifers.
  • It is not just bees that are affected - all insects are affected.
  • It is an insecticide - it is designed to kill insects.
  • Bees can be seen as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.
  • This derogation may mean there is less incentive to find alternatives.
  • So far we have selectively bred Sugar Beet strains for yield not resistance.
  • This is a prophylactic use of insecticide - apply it in case we get get a problem.
  • Why not grow less sugar and replace it with fruit and veg?
  • Obesity is costing this country £27 billion per year.
  • Carbon footprint of sugar beet less than that of sugar cane.
  • Farmers are advised by agronomists on crop treatments.
  • Between 50% and 80% are tied to chemical companies.
  • Alternatives include:
    • Accept a lower yield
    • Grow something else instead
    • Breed different varieties of sugar beet
    • Use natural aphid predators.
    • Use less sugar - and that is down to all of us.
  • DEFRA have advised the removal of flowering plants from treated field margins.
    • This is to prevent insects being poisoned
    • Instead of them being poisoned they can be starved!
    • A scorched earth policy!

There may be alternatives to neonicotinoids but there are no alternatives to bees.

Sorry to keep on about this but it is important. I wrote about the issue in my previous post on Green Brexit. There is also another post on the Dorchester and Weymouth Bee Keepers site.

But reading is not enough. We have to make certain that any decisions the government make are well informed. It is for this reason I am drawing your attention to the draft National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. There are download links on the page and it is asking for our response - and our deadline for response is February 26th.

The document raises several questions for us to think about including, on page 21, asking us how DEFRA could increase transparency to explain the decisions they have come to. This is an important issue as can be seen by the lack of information available regarding the evidence for the recent Sugar Beet/Neonicotinoid derogation.

I ask you all to download and read the document and pass back your comments by February 26th

Bee working hard.
Photo by Neil Harvey on Unsplash

On a lighter note - the other night we watched "Mr Holmes" on the BBCiPlayer. It is partly about Sherlock Holmes - which is why we chose to watch it - but bees and bee keeping play a very important element in the story. It stars Ian McKellen and is an interesting plot beautifully acted. It is on iPlayer  until the end of the month or you can rent it from Amazon.

Lockdown or not there is plenty to do this week - it could be busy. I have been doing some digging  - on the net rather than in the garden- and come up with the following links which may be of interest to bee keepers:

Asian Hornet : This has not gone away and when the weather warms up we will have to be as prepared as we have been in previous years. The BBKA have an interesting paper on dealing with an Asian Hornet incursion. The paper is actually an extract from the blog by Peter Davies which can be found here.
In addition there are some interesting papers on Nature's web site including one by Peter Kennedy on his work on tracking Asian Hornets.  There is also a paper on predicting the spread of the Asian Hornet and another on dealing with the possible Asian Hornet incursion. If you want an excellent video on the effect of Asian Hornets on a bee hive then this video on the BBKA site is worth watching.

Neonicotinoids: Whilst I was on the Nature web site I did a search for Neonicotinoids. It produces some interesting papers which helped me broaden my understanding of this insecticide. It is not just about the bees!
There are  several petitions regarding Neonicotinoids. There is one asking the government to overturn this decision. So far South Dorset has submitted 61 signatures and West Dorset 95 signatures! or write to your MP – or even both. There is also a similar petition to continue the ban on neonocotinoids

Lectures: I have updated the Diary Dates page to show more Zoom lectures and there are plenty of possibilities there. My attention has also been drawn to podcasts. These I find useful as I can put them onto my MP3 player and listen to them on my daily walk. Of these my favourite is the Norfolk Honey Company talk. Stewart Spink has such a relaxed manner and yet explains it all so well.  There are also more podcasts from Beekeeping Today, the Hive JiveBeekeeper Confidential and from New Zealand's Kiwimana.

Tasks: Couple of things for you to do: BBKA have included a reader survey page in the latest magazine. I keep my magazines intact and am thus loathe to cut out a page. Fear not there is an online reader survey here.  If you are a BBKA member - and we all should be if we are UK based - then this is feedback which is needed to determine the future of the magazine. The other task is to sign one or both of the petitions mentioned above. regarding Neonicotinoids and contact your MP expressing your concern.

Well that is it for now. This week is going to be a stormy week in the UK with a lot of wind and rain. If your hives are all strapped down then sit back, relax and catch up with your reading - it is what I am going to do.

 

1

It is early days but we were promised a "Green Brexit" by Michael Gove Indeed Michael Gove has promised us that "the right decisions, can enhance our natural environment."

Well one of the first environmental changes made by this government since full Brexit has ben the  issue of an emergency authorisation for the use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet seeds - just 8 days into the New Year.

    There are conditions attached to this emergency authorisation:
  • Seeds treated with the neonicotinoids can only be on the market for 120 days.
  • Seeds can only be used when there is a risk of serious drop in yield due to beet yellow virus.;
  • The emergency authorisation will be reviewed after three years
    There are proposals attached to this emergency authorisation:
  • The applicant has proposed a reduced level of application to the seeds
  • The applicant has proposed the use of a virus-incidence forecasting programme so that the dressing is only used when "economic impacts would be incurred".
  • The applicant has proposed a "stewardship scheme" to address risks to pollinating insects.
    In a section about bees attention is drawn to the following points:
  • Sugar beet is a non-flowering crop and therefore of less interest to bees
  • There is a risk that bees will visit flowering weeds between the beet plants. This will be prevented by the use of herbicides.
  • Neonicotinoids are persistent in the environment so it is proposed that no flowering crops be grown on the plots for 22 months and
  • No oil-seed rape to be planted on the same plot for 32 months.

The paper describes the risk to mammals and birds from eating the seedlings is "acceptable" and the chance of birds eating the pelleted seed was minimal.

This does seem to be a restricted use of neonicotinoids but is it the thin end of the wedge?

Why is it being allowed at all on a crop which produces a product the government are doing their best to discourage us from consuming.

Neonicotinoids are known to harm bees and their use is something we should be aware of.

These are early days for this "Green Brexit" but it is something all of us concerned with the natural environment should be watching very closely.

If you are looking for something more uplifting may I suggest you look at the lectures advertised on the Diary Dates page.

Asian Hornet week –so what? Why should I care?
The Asian Hornet is a serious pest threatening British Agriculture. If it gets a hold here it is estimated that the cost of eradication will be around £7.5 million. That is just the cost of eradication. The costs to food producers is much more.

OK it is expensive but why does it have to go?
The Asian Hornet eats flying insects - the same insects that pollinate our fruit trees and many of our vegetables. In the absence of these insects we would have no apples, no beans, no blackberries and fewer flowers since there would be no flower seeds.

But I thought it only ate honey bees.
Honey bees provide a useful source of food to the Asian Hornet – like a take-away food shop. All the Asian Hornet has to do is hover outside the hive and wait for a bee to arrive. It grabs it and flies off to eat it.

OK so it eats a bee- does that matter?
Well it would not matter if there was one Asian Hornet and it ate a bee every day – but it is not like that. The Asian Hornet lives in a nest with about 6,000 other Asian Hornets. Research suggests that up to 600 bees will be taken each day. It does not take long for Asian Hornet to destroy a colony. Those they do not eat detect the threat and do not leave the hive leading to starvation.

And then what?
Well once the Asian Hornet has eaten all the bees it will start on other insects which are flying such as butterflies and bumble bees.

But is it a threat to me?
Well apart from the risk of food shortages and a loss of so many species which make our countryside so interesting – there is a risk to us. In France there have been several deaths from Asian Hornet and even in the UK there has been one hospital admission as a result of being stung by an Asian Hornet. The problem is that if you disturb a nest of Asian Hornets they may all come out to get you – all six thousand!

So what can I do?
First you can download the App from your favourite app store. Just search for “Asian Hornet”. Install it and look at the pictures of the Asian Hornet and also the insects which look like the Asian Hornet but are not a problem.
Secondly you can keep your eyes open when you are outside. You are looking for insect that looks a bit like a wasp but is bigger, has yellow socks and just one yellow/orange band on its abdomen.

And if I see one?
Report it immediately using the app, preferably with a photo.

Then what will happen?
The message will get to DEFRA who will notify the Regional Bee Inspector who will alert the local volunteer Asian Hornet Coordinators. They are ready to turn out at any time to check whether it was an Asian Hornet and then help to find the nest.

And when the nest is found?
At that point DEFRA send in the big guns with all the equipment they need to destroy the nest and all of its occupants.

Is there anything else I should know?
Yes the Asian Hornet is a bit bigger than a wasp but not as big as the Asian Giant Hornet which can be up to 40mm long. The Asian Giant Hornet does not have yellow socks and has several yellow bands on its abdomen. It is often shown illustrating articles about the Asian Hornet – and that is wrong.

Anything else?
Yes – do not go near a nest of Asian Hornets. Use the App to call an expert. Even bee keepers in their bee suits do not go near a nest.

Gosh! Where can I find out more?
Asian Hornet coordinator web site
or
British Bee Keepers Association BBKA
or
follow the BBKA on Facebook or on Twitter

The NBU has been unable to carry out any Bee Health Day training, evening Association talks or attend any national events due to COVID restrictions.

To part mitigate this, Fera Science have prepared several You Tube training/educational videos, which are now available via BeeBase and are freely available to beekeepers and Associations.  Initially three of these have been released looking at the following topics:
Asian Hornet Biology
Asian Hornet Genetics
European foulbrood

The presentations can be found on BeeBases pages on
Asian hornet
and
Foulbrood.

The information can also be accessed on BeeBase news page.

Alternatively there is a link at the foot of the Advisory Leaflets, Training Manuals & Factsheets page.

There is also available  a series of on-line evening lectures throughout the rest of the beekeeping season, starting on 9th June. Topics are chosen to fit with the work in the apiary, aiming to be timely and thought-provoking to inspire all those 'thinking beekeepers' out there.

Ken and Dan Basterfield regularly give popular lectures on practical and thought-provoking beekeeping topics. They lecture across the UK and Ireland, from local association meetings to national and international conferences."

The full programme and booking links can be found here.

The forecast for this week is for thundery showers, some of which could be torrential.  If there was thunder in the air would you want someone to take the roof of your house! I guess not and bees are the same. They can become very aggressive if you try to open the hive in thundery weather. Don't.