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NBU Apiaries

The National Bee Unit (NBU) runs around 150-300 honey bee colonies in different apiaries, in and around Sand Hutton, near York. The numbers of colonies fluctuates from 150 as a baseline to 300 depending on the projects and work underway. Management of the NBU’s apiaries is integrated with our research, commercial and diagnostic programmes. Most NBU staff at York are also practical beekeepers as well as scientists.

What is done with the colonies

Unlike most beekeepers honey production is not our key aim (although it is a welcome by-product in good times). The NBU bees are maintained for a number of reasons; supporting scientific research of both the NBU and other Fera teams, including:

  • Commercial safety and efficacy testing for development/registration of new Veterinary Medicines or Plant Protection Products;
  • Chemical residue testing studies;
  • A wide range of beekeeper training e.g. queen rearing, NDB husbandry course, bee pests and disease and husbandry workshops, as well as Bee Inspector training including contingency planning exercises;
  • Sampling protocols for research projects.

All of our stocks are kept in Smith Hives and we run them on double brood chambers. We find this system suits our needs and allows us to maintain large productive colonies for any purpose, meaning they can be divided easily, if necessary, to provide colonies for any scheduled studies.

Following a couple of poor beekeeping seasons, 2009 was the best we have had since moving to Yorkshire in 1996.  The bees produced between five and six tons of honey.  The most productive colony produced 130kg and the highest yielding apiary 73kg per hive. Beekeepers like to talk about results and to the left is a photograph of the 2009 crop. As is the norm with the weather, the seasons vary wildely with 2012 being the most difficult and poorest season for decades.

Last Reviewed 09/03/2020