Bee health

Bees contribute to the sustainability of the countryside, through their crucial role of pollinating flowers and contributing to the diversity within agriculture and horticulture.

DAERA's role in safeguarding bee health

The department implements legislation relating to the health and welfare of bees. The annual work programme implemented by bee inspectors includes an annual survey for notifiable diseases, follow up inspections after disease outbreaks and checks on imports.

DAERA bee inspectors, who operate on a seasonal basis, are responsible for the supervision of control and elimination of disease outbreaks.

Bee Health Inspectorate - DAERA

DAERA has a team of appointed local bee inspectors who operate across Northern Ireland and who are responsible for bee health inspections covering a number of areas in relation to honeybees and bumblebees in particular notifiable pests and diseases. In Northern Ireland, two serious bacterial diseases of honeybees are currently notifiable and subject to control under bee diseases and pests legislation. These are the brood infections American foulbrood (AFB) and European foulbrood (EFB).

Over the years AFB has been found throughout Northern Ireland and considered to be widely distributed whilst EFB was recorded in 2014 after an absence for many years. Where they occur, the disease control of infected colonies is the responsibility of DAERA and its bee inspectors. In addition, two exotic pest threats, the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) and Tropilaelaps spp. mites, are notifiable throughout Europe and therefore subject to statutory control measures.

Bee disease outbreaks 2017

Bee disease outbreaks in previous years

A detailed multilayered PDF is now available for download showing disease locations in Northern Ireland for AFB and EFB for the years 2014 to date. Both diseases for each year are on separate layers which can be viewed individually or in any combination of layers chosen.

Please contact your local bee inspector for further details of the recognition and control of foulbrood, present situation regarding small hive beetle and Tropilaelaps or if you are planning to import or export honeybees or bumblebees (link to page on imports exports below).

Further information regarding bee diseases and pests subject to statutory control measures

The following documents (published on the BeeBase website) provide more information on:

Bee health inspections

DAERA Bee Inspectors carry out a risk based programme of apiary visits, inspecting colonies for signs of pests and disease. If you keep bees in Northern Ireland, it is possible that your local bee inspector will contact you to make an appointment to inspect your bees. However, bee inspectors cannot manage to visit every beekeeper each year and you should therefore regularly check your bees for signs of brood disease yourself.

If you ever have any serious concerns about their health, you should either send a suitable sample to Agri-food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) for diagnosis, or contact your local Bee Inspector to discuss.

Where foulbrood is suspected, the inspector will use a Lateral Flow Device or take a sample for laboratory diagnosis and issue a Detention Notice prohibiting the removal of bees and equipment from the apiary. If foulbrood is confirmed, the inspector will advise on the necessary disease control measures, along with issuing a notice confirming these and the timeframe in which they must be completed. These can include destruction of infected colonies (AFB or EFB), antibiotic treatment (EFB only) or shookswarm (EFB only) and further inspections of colonies that have been associated with the diseased colonies. After six to eight weeks (longer if overlapping with winter months) if no further disease signs have appeared, the Detention Notice will be lifted. Normally the bee inspector will visit again during the following season to be sure that the disease has been completely controlled.

As part of our normal inspections, specially targeted inspections are carried out for notifiable exotic pests (small hive beetle and Tropilaelaps) in apiaries close to identified risk points (for example, ports, garden centres, honey packers etcetera.) or where importation has taken place in the past.

Bee trade - import and export inspections

As part of the DAERA’s bee health programme, inspections are also carried out to monitor bee imports and provide evidence for issuing export health certificates.

Documentary checks (health cert and record of where bees went) and physical inspections (on the colony itself, although this may be delayed for a year) are part of the controls for monitoring imports. Export requirements are necessary to confirm the freedom of AFB, Small Hive Beetle and Tropilaelaps in the hives, apiary and a specified radius before a health certificate can be issued.

Bee health emergency plans

To provide a co-ordinated response to the findings of any exotic or quarantine pests or disease of honeybees, DAERA developed a contingency plan for exotic pests and diseases of honey bees in Northern Ireland for the year 2013.

Bee health - science and diagnostic support

AFBI provides scientific and laboratory support to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Bee health inspectorate and to local beekeepers.

Brood diseases, American and European foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae and Melissococcus plutonius) are notifiable diseases under the The Bee Diseases and Pests Control Order (Northern Ireland) 2007. These are bacterial diseases that kill the bee larvae within the hive. As these diseases can result in colonies being compulsorily destroyed, proper identification is vital. This is done in the laboratory through visual inspection of the comb and infected larvae, coupled with microscope identification.

Also on the horizon are pests such as the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida), which is native to Africa but has devastated honeybee colonies in the USA and Australia. Such threats mean that we must remain vigilant to prevent the entry of new pests and diseases, as well as ensuring that current best practice in the form of integrated pest management is used in bee husbandry.

Since 2009 AFBI has conducted an annual survey for all beekeepers in Northern Ireland to obtain information on current honey bee husbandry practices and is used to provide baseline data on bee health in Northern Ireland. This survey is in conjunction with a similar national survey conducted by the National Bee Unit at the Food and Environment Research Agency, York and CoLoss, a Europe-wide research group.

For more details, please visit the Bee Health section of the AFBI website.

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