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Recent News Items

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October 2017 - Complete the Hive Count

Dear Beekeepers,

It's time to update your BeeBase records with the total number of overwintering hives as of 1st November 2017. To do this click on the link below.

More details of this initiative, its importance and why we need your help can be found on the Hive Count page.

We thank you for your co-operation.

The National Bee Unit

October 2017 - Asian hornet nest in Woolacombe destroyed

A recent outbreak of Asian hornets has been successfully contained by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Inspectorate who promptly tracked down and destroyed the nest in Devon.

The hornets were first discovered in the Woolacombe area in September and work to track down and destroy the nest included a two mile surveillance zone in Devon, with National Bee Unit Bee Inspectors using line of sight to triangulate the location of the nest. The contingency plan was set in motion, which included opening a disease control center to coordinate the response between the various teams involved.

Since the destruction and removal of the nest, no further Asian hornets have been seen in the area, but it is possible Asian hornets could reappear in the UK and beekeepers, along with members of the public are urged to report any suspected sightings through the routes outlined in the Defra press release.

For more details about the Asian hornet, please visit the detailed pages on BeeBase.

October 2017 - Asian Hornet Identified in North Devon

Please be aware that we are experiencing a high volume of calls so please use the below guidance for all enquiries relating to Asian hornet sightings.

The National Bee Unit has confirmed a sighting of the Asian hornet in North Devon which was spotted by a beekeeper in their apiary on the 18th September 2017. The contingency response has been initiated and a press release has been issued by Defra.

Beekeepers within the area of the outbreak will be contacted by Bee Inspectors in order to carry out apiary inspections and to hang out traps and we ask for full your co-operation during these visits.

About the Asian hornet

The Asian hornet is smaller than our native hornet and poses no greater risk to human health than a bee. However, they do pose a risk to honey bees.

Work to identify, destroy and remove any nests is already underway, which includes:

• opening a local control center to coordinate the response;

• deploying bee inspectors across the area, and;

• readying nest disposal experts who will use pesticides to kill the hornets and destroy any nests.

Further guidance on the Asian hornet can be found on the Asian hornet pages of BeeBase where you will find a very useful Asian hornet ID sheet and Asian hornet poster which is available for identification purposes.

Our best defence against the Asian hornet is to quickly detect any arrivals and prevent them from establishing and traps are the best way to help aid detection. When monitoring for the hornet, please use both sweet and protein based baits in separate traps as the nest may still be expanding and requiring protein to feed it’s young. We have designed A simple monitoring trap for the Asian hornet and an Asian hornet trap making video to help assist you in doing this.

You can now report sightings with your smart phone or tablet, by using the ‘Asian hornet Watch’ app for Androids and iOS. The app also uses GPS which allows the user to submit the exact location of their finding, allowing any confirmed sightings to be followed up quickly and efficiently.

Alternatively, you can submit your sighting by email. When doing so, please include as much information as possible, including where you saw the sighting, name, contact number/ address and if possible an image. Send your sightings to:

All records received are reviewed by entomologists at Centre of Ecology and Hydrology and credible records passed on to us at the NBU for further investigation.

Finally you can also use the online recording form which can be found at

Please could all media enquiries be directed to the Defra press Office: 0208 225 7510

We thank you in advance for your co-operation.

August 2017 - Autumn Management

As we approach the autumn season, you may be planning what to do in order to successfully over winter your colonies. Remember the start of the 2018 beekeeping year begins now and anything you do or do not do to your colonies will have repercussions on their ability to overwinter successfully, and on their subsequent performance in the following year. To help you out, we’ve put together a checklist of tasks to carry out before you ‘put your bees to bed’ for winter.

Good quality stocks of bees

Colonies which have poorly performed during the season e.g. the queen has had a bad laying pattern, or any colonies which are headed by queens older than say two years should ideally be replaced by a good quality and newly mated queen. This will set the colony in good stead for next year as young queens are more prolific and produce a strong population of honey bees necessary for the colony to successfully overwinter. Younger queens are also unlikely to be superseded in the spring at a time when the colony is more vulnerable and if the older queen is killed, it is unlikely that a replacement queen will be available to keep the colony going.

If, in the following year you wish to use any of the older queens for breeding purposes and want to graft from her young larvae, then removing her from the main colony and over-wintering her in a nuc will increase the likelihood of her surviving into the following spring.

At the beginning of the “Healthy Bees Plan” a series of Best Practice Factsheets were produced, and we think it’s an opportune time to dig the one out about “Obtaining Honey Bees” as a reminder of the sound advice it contains The fact sheet, along with all of the others can be found here.

When buying bees:

  • Ascertain that the stocks offered are suitable for your needs. Try to avoid sourcing bees from outside your area as it could accelerate the spread of pests and diseases. Many beekeepers consider that local strains generally suit the natural flora of that locality;
  • Use a reputable supplier. References from other beekeepers may help you choose;
  • Check with the supplier where the queen has come from. It is not always clear what strain of honey bee you are obtaining and whether the queen has been bred by the supplier, bought in or imported;
  • If you import bees then make sure that you do this carefully. Follow the import rules if they come from outside the country through the proper channels of health certification. Guidance on how to do this can be found here.

    Try to source locally reared stocks of queens from local breeders. If you buy bees or queens, keep a record of the bee movement and any sales so that you are able to trace where the bees came from. It is important that if disease is found in the purchased colony, we are able to trace where they have come from in order to track the disease back to the source.

    Pest and disease checks and medicine Treatments

    There will always be variation in when beekeepers need to treat for Varroa but it is especially important to monitor mite populations going into autumn. If the levels are high and warrant treatment, only registered products should be applied by using the label instructions. Failure to treat promptly could risk infection with Varroa transmitted viruses in the developing brood. This brood would be the bees which will carry the colony through winter and if infected, will be unable to do so.

    Remember to do a full inspection of the colonies for the presence of pests and diseases; so for foul brood carefully examine each comb. Checks also for the presence of exotic threats such as the small hive beetle should be done, and details of how to do this can be found in the NBU leaflets. Early recognition is absolutely key to successful pest and disease control.

    If you are not already doing so, don’t forget to also monitor for the Asian hornet. As we approach autumn, you are likely to also see them foraging on Ivy or other nectar producing food sources as well as hawking in front of hives in apiaries.

    Adequate Feeding

    As a rule of thumb, a full size colony should have about 25kg+ of honey stores to get through the winter and into the first part of our unpredictable springs. Therefore, many beekeepers will feed around 25kg of thick sugar syrup (1kg of sugar to 630ml of water) between August and September. This amount of feed would usually last a colony 5 – 6 months during the winter, however, with changeable weather, food stores should be monitored after the New Year and if they look like they are running short, sugar candy of some type can be fed. Don’t forget colonies also need adequate pollen provisions and will need two full sized deep frames of pollen to see them over winter. If this is not present, then a suitable pollen substitute should be fed, readily obtainable from the bee equipment suppliers.

June 2017 - High Mite Levels in Colonies

In some regions of the UK, colonies are starting to show symptoms of high levels of Varroa mites, for example wing deformities and perforated cappings. Therefore, it might be prudent to start monitoring colony mite populations and information on how to do this can be found on page 15 of the Managing Varroa booklet. Also, the Varroa calculator can be used to help calculate your estimated mite population in your colonies:

If your colonies have a high amount of Varroa, i.e 1000 mites after calculating it from the average drop, you may want to treat them with a registered varroacide. Suitable treatments where brood is present would include:

Apilife Var;
Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) and;

If you wish to use an oxalic acid based product then a broodless condition should be created first. Additionally, if you have honey for human consumption on the hives, remember that MAQs is currently the only registered product which can be used. When using any medicines it is important to remember to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

*Mite resistance to these products have been recorded and so a resistance test (the Beltsville test) should be carried out before using the product.

April 2017 - Seasonal Bee Inspector Vacancies

The National Bee Unit has Seasonal Bee Inspector Posts advertised on the Civil Service Jobs website. The areas we are recruiting for are:

1536718. DEF/196/17 Seasonal Bee Inspector - Home Based - Southern England - Dorset

1536726. DEF/195/17 Seasonal Bee Inspector - Home Based - Eastern England - South Suffolk/North Essex

1536751. DEF/194/17 Seasonal Bee Inspector - Home Based - Western Region - Herefordshire

If you are interested in applying for the post then please use one of the links above. If you have any questions about any of the posts, please do not hesitate to contact the named person on the vacancy information.

March 2017 - Asian hornet monitoring trap making video

The National Bee Unit is proud to announce that a video which outlines how to make our Asian hornet monitoring trap is now available on Youtube to view:

This aims to complement our trap making Fact Sheet titled: A simple Asian hornet monitoring trap .

We hope that you find it informative and useful.

Kind regards,

National Bee Unit

March 2017 - Non Native Invasive Species Week

Monday saw the launch of a new smartphone app 'Asian hornet watch' which is aimed to help members of the public to identify and report sightings of the Asian hornet. People will be able to use the free app to quickly and easily report possible sightings of the invasive species and send pictures of suspect insects to experts at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, Nonative Species Secretariat and National Bee Unit.

The Asian hornet, aka, the yellow legged hornet are a huge threat to our native honey bees, which is why it is important for us to remain vigilant.

Biosecurity Minister Lord Gardiner said:
“This innovative new app is designed to be easy to use and allows people to report quickly any possible sightings of Asian hornets, which will help us to halt their spread".

“This invasive species poses a threat to our native honey bees and we must do all we can to encourage vigilance - this new technology will advance this.”

The interactive app, developed by the Great Britain Non-native Species Secretariat and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, will also make it easier for people to judge whether an insect may actually be an Asian hornet; with pictures available of other insects that it could be confused with and helpful information about their size, appearance and the times of year they are most likely to be spotted.

If there is a sighting of the Asian hornet, the government’s well established protocol for eradicating the species will kick quickly into action: This was the case in Gloucestershire last Autumn, when bee inspectors rapidly tracked down and destroyed an Asian hornet nest, containing any further outbreak:

Additional information on the hornet is available from our website:

where you will find an ID sheet, poster and information on additional routes to report any suspect sightings. 

For more information on the Non Native Invasive Species week visit the Non native Species Secretariat website:

February 2017 - Generic Contingency for Animal and Plant Health Published

The generic contingency plan for Plant and Bee Health in England  has been published and can be viewed on the Gov.UK website:

The Contingency Plan describes how Defra and operational partners have prepared for, and in the event of an outbreak, would respond to an outbreak of a plant or bee pest or disease in England.

More information about pest specific contingency plans for Bee Health can also be found on our Contingency pages of BeeBase:

February 2017 - Seasonal Bee Inspector Vacancies

The National Bee Unit has Seasonal Bee Inspector Posts advertised on the Civil Service Jobs website. The areas we are recruiting for are:

Northern (Tyne & Wear, Northumberland, Durham);

Western (West Midlands);

Southern (Berkshire), and;

Wales (Mid and South Glamorgan).

If you are interested in applying for the post then please use one of the links above. If you have any questions about any of the posts, please do not hesitate to contact the relevant Regional Bee Inspector, or the National Bee Unit Office on 0300 3030094 or email

January 2017 - Asian hornet in the UK: Update and Request for Heightened Vigilance.

Dear Beekeepers,

As you are aware, Vespa velutina nigrothorax, the yellow-legged hornet (a.k.a the Asian hornet) was found in the UK last season. The first European incursion of this hornet was reported in France in 2004. The Asian hornet has since spread around 80-100 km per year, invading Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Belgium. Adult hornets are voracious predators of honey bees and other beneficial insects, resulting in colony losses in France. In September 2016, foraging Asian hornets were reported near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, and a trapped individual was reported from Somerset. The nest near Tetbury was found and destroyed by National Bee Unit Inspectors and members of the Wildlife team in the Animal and Plant Health Agency. Despite extensive field inspections, no further foraging Asian hornets were sighted in Somerset. Whilst this is good news, the ability of the Asian hornet to spread rapidly means that we must remain vigilant and aware of any possible activity across a wide area and with spring fast approaching, there is an opportunity for us all to monitor and trap any potential foundress queens.

In spring, surviving V. velutina queens begin a small primary nest, often in a sheltered location such as in the eaves of a roof or in a garden shed. Here they raise the first clutch of workers who take over the queen’s foraging duties. At this stage the nest grows quickly, and the hornets often move to establish a secondary nest where there is more space to expand. These nests can become very large, and are often located high up in the tree canopy, close to a food source such as apiaries, (see images on BeeBase for further details).

From late September to October, the mature nest produces males and then virgin queens, which mate and disperse. However, the beginning of this stage of nest reproduction can vary, depending on climatic conditions. In France, a single mature nest produces on average 11 foundress queens after taking into account overwintering mortality of the potentially hundreds of queens that first disperse in autumn.

A consortium of scientists from the NBU and the Universities of Warwick and Newcastle have used data on the spread of the Asian hornet in France to develop a mathematical model that can estimate the hornet spread in the UK. The highly mobile nature of the hornet means that the range of possible additional nest locations in 2016, estimated using the model, covers a wide area, see Figure 1 for details.

Figure 1 Map showing the potential spread of Asian hornet in 2016 using a mathematical model based on Franklin et al. 2016 (In Press). The dark orange squares represent the locations of Asian hornet discoveries in Tetbury and Somerset. The yellow area defines a boundary, outside of which we would not expect, according to the model, to find a nest.

In the spring, Asian hornets can be trapped by using either commercial traps, which are available off the shelf or a home-made model e.g. by using the NBU modified hornet monitoring trap. If we know they are present in an area we can take action quickly to prevent populations expanding.

There is a helpful Asian hornet identification sheet and poster on Beebase along with a fact sheet which outlines how to make our own NBU design, and, what baits would be suitable during the different seasons of the year. See:

Should you find a suspect Asian hornet or nest, please contact the Non Native Species Secretariat immediately using their alert email address:

Give as much information as possible. Please include details such as your name, the location where the hornet was found and if possible an image of the specimen. Please do not put yourself in any danger of getting stung when trying to take a photo. Even if you are unsure of whether it is an Asian hornet, send it in anyway – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

We thank you in advance for your co-operation and vigilance.

Kind regards,
National Bee Unit

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