Skip to content

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.



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
British Bee Keepers Association BBKA
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

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.

We all hoped that by September we would be out of the current pandemic but the organisers of the Dorset County Show have decided that they cannot hold the show this year and as a result the Dorset County Show for 2020 is cancelled. More details can be seen here

Look Out!

When you next go out to check your bees you may find:

  • Flying insects as big as mice
  • Your bees have all been decapitated and eaten by Asian Hornets
  • You are at risk of being killed by a single sting from an Asian Hornet.

And you thought we had enough problems with the current lock down. Fortunately the threats suggested above are not real because they are Asian Hornet Myths. They are what we see in the papers. Fake news is not restricted to 5G masts and politics.

A new page I have added today is an attempt to start to set the record straight by debunking Asian Hornet myths that are floating about out there.

A lot of the myths are spread on social media. If you are a user of any of these can I ask that you search for Asian Hornet on your favourite social media sites and if you see the Giant Asian Hornet (Vespa mandarinia) labelled as Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) then ask for it to be removed as being false and add your own comment to say what it really is.

We need the help of the public to keep on top of the Asian Hornet but they will not be able to do that if they are looking for the Giant Asian Hornet.

This page was originally posted on the Dorchester and Weymouth Beekeepers website but I felt it to be sufficiently important that I have put a copy here as well.

24th March 2020
Well, who could see that coming - we are in lockdown.
There have been a lot of communications from the BBKA over the last couple of weeks and thus I have created a special page for Covid-19 updates.  Please read it so that you are up to date with what the BBKA are suggesting and what they are doing.

16th February 2020
Been a busy time preparing for the possible arrival of the Asian Hornet. Last week there was an excellent conference at Stoneleigh organised by the BBKA. I was fortunate enough to attend and my report can be found here. Though I have done a lot of reading about the Asian Hornet there was still a lot to learn and I have put as much as I can remember in my report.