There was a depressing inevitability when I heard the news that Small Hive Beetle (SHB) had eventually found its way to Europe with reports that it is established in Italy. Given the severity of risk why isn’t the UK Government announcing a ban on all bee imports from Italy. Maybe a better question is why isn’t the BBKA calling for one?
Small Hive Beetle is indigenous to Africa. In its native habitat the beetle is generally only a problem in failing hives, stronger colonies have the ability to subdue the beetles as African bees have a more aggressive approach to house keeping than their European cousins.
The beetles are able to detect a hive by its scent. Researchers are not sure what scents act as an attractant, maybe the general smells of the hives or even specific bee pheromones. Work in this area may one day produce a lure which can be utilised in traps. Once they have sneaked past the guard bees at the entrance the females search for a safe hiding place in the nooks and crannies of the hive away from the bees to lay her eggs. If detected the bees actually station guards to contain the beetles, keeping them from the stores and brood. The beetles have developed a strategy in which they can ask the bees for food by mimicking the process of rubbing the bees to illicit the passing of food. So whilst imprisoned by the bees they don’t starve, I never fail to be amazed how remarkable bees are!
Left unchecked the beetles eggs eventually hatch into larvae that begin to feed on the stores and brood in the comb; destroying the comb as they burrow through it. If the colony is strong the bees with either imprison within the hive or chase the beetles out of their house before the process becomes too destructive. Otherwise the stores decay forming a foul smelling sticky soup of rotting stores and beetle larvae faeces. Once the beetle larvae is finished feeding they leave the hive to borrow into nearby soil to pupate. This whole process takes around three weeks.
In Australia and the USA where they have been introduced the Small Hive Beetle has caused considerable damage in European Honey Bees apiaries. Although ever adaptive bee-keepers have now developed strategies such as traps, treatments, modified management techniques and work on breeding bees with stronger house keeping behaviours - all of which help reduce the impact of SHB within the hives.
I’m curious why neither the UK Government nor the BBKA have called for a ban. Although in the long term it’s highly likely that SHB will one day make its way to the UK no matter what precautions we take to prevent it. However; even DEFRA say that the movement of commercially breed bee stocks is the most likely mechanism SHB will enter Britain:
These conclusions are based on a £30,000 study funded by DEFRA in 2010 which identified these eight pathways. Moreover almost all bee imports from outside the EU are already banned for the sole reason to prevent the spread of pests and diseases that threaten European bee stocks.
Remarkably in response to a emergency motion laid down by the West Sussex Beekeepers Association which proposes:
Nominating Association West Sussex
Seconding Association Awaited
Following the discovery of Small Hive Beetle, Aethina tumida, (SHB) in Italy in September 2014 this ADM instructs BBKA to urgently seek a ban on the importation of bees and unprocessed bee products into the UK.
SHB was discovered in Italy in September 2014. In a short time it was confirmed in over 30 apiaries, showing how easily it can be spread undetected. Italy exports bees and queens to a large number of countries, including the UK, so the threat can be from anywhere. Attempts to control the spread of SHB have failed in all countries it has reached so far, so we can assume the same will happen in the UK. It is likely to spread in advance of detection.
Although SHB may be spread on fruit the one certain way is on bees. In the USA the spread was through packages and migratory beekeeping, the introduction into Canada in unprocessed beeswax.
Bees are generally imported for commercial gain. Losses can be quickly made up from existing stock and queens reared using simple techniques, so restricting imports will not unduly affect British beekeeping.
Costs are difficult to evaluate although it should only be the cost of lobbying and the lines of communication are already established.
The BBKA Executive Committee in an act of astonishing selective reading are pushing for a ban on exports of fruits from the infected areas of Italy.
I’ve provided their response to this proposal here.
They claim that it would not be possible to:
‘to achieve a ban on the importation of honey bees and unprocessed honey bee products’
Dispite EU Member State Malta doing exactly that.
There is no doubt that the arrival of Small Hive Beetle in the UK would represent the great threat to UK Beekeeping since Varroa landed here in 1992. The introduction of the Varroa Mite resulted in an exodus of people from the hobby and as the number of people joining in recent years as dramatically risen it is very likely that faced with the prospect of having to deal with yet another invasive and unpleasant pest many more would leave the hobby again.
It is incredibly disappointing to see the BBKA once against fail to take any lead in a campaigning lead.
As an organisation it is firmly rooted in an administrative role and stubbornly refuses to take anything but the officially party line. This has lead to groups like Buglife and Greenpeace capturing the public imaginations with bee lead campaigns in the past and I expect groups other than the BBKA will pick up this issue and run with it as well, as the BBKA stand idly by.