Reporting Varroa in your Apiary from April 2021

The following was announced by the National Bee Unit on 12th April 2021:

On 21st April, 2021 an amendment to the Bee Diseases and Pests Control (England) Order 2006 and the Bee Diseases and Pests Control (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2021 comes into force requiring beekeepers and/or officials to report the presence of Varroa in any of the hives that they manage. Reporting will be for each apiary site. This amendment will allow England and Wales to comply with the Animal Health Law which is necessary for future working relationships with the European Union. Similar arrangements are being made in Scotland.

To make this simple, a tick box will be introduced to BeeBase, the voluntary register for beekeepers managed by the National Bee Unit. This will allow beekeepers and inspectors to report the presence or absence of Varroa. This will be the easiest way to report Varroa. We are currently working on an alternative mechanism for those who do not wish to register on the BeeBase system and aim to share this before 21st April.

You will see from the screen shot below that it is easy to comply.  Simply edit your apiary details and click on “Yes” if Varroa mites are present in at least one colony in your apiary.

A screenshot of NBU Beebase showing the tick-box for Varroa mites in the apiary

If you have not registered on Beebase we strongly recommend that you do so as soon as possible.  As well as providing invaluable statistics for lobbying government and supporting research, it will send you an automated warning if any notifiable disease or pest is found in close proximity to your bees.  It is safe and secure; your personal details and apiary location  are neither shared nor specifically used.

Beekeeping Items For Sale

In a normal year, Meon Valley Beekeeping Association organises a popular Beekeeping Auction. This could not happen in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic so it has been suggested that this website could include a ‘For Sale’ page.
The following links will take you to Hampshire local association web pages that list members’ items for sale:

  • (No links provided yet – please come back later)

NOTE: When buying secondhand hives or parts, you MUST assume the worst and sterilise them thoroughly to destroy all pathogens. Please read the National Bee Unit Fact Sheet about Hive Cleaning and Sterilisation

What is a Swarm?

A swarm of honeybees is distinctive. The swarm in flight can be described as a cloud of bees flying excitedly. The swarm then gathers into a brown mass of thousands of bees clustered tightly together.

Honeybees are unusual in that they overwinter as a colony. As the days lengthen and the temperature starts to rise, the queen bee will start to lay eggs at an ever-increasing rate to build up the colony’s strength.

The colony will quadruple – or more – in size and their instinct is to ‘swarm’. This means that the queen will leave, accompanied by half of the worker bees, in search of a new home. The remaining bees are left with a few developing young queens and the wherewithal to rebuild their colony. Here, you see a ‘queen cell’; inside is a new queen. She will emerge in the next few days to take her departed mother’s place. A frame of brood with queen cells

The swarm will fly a short distance then settle in an easily-recognisable cluster while they decide what to do next. This can be anywhere such as a branch, a soffit, a chimney, a shed roof, a bicycle, a ladder – there is no limit to their sense of adventure.

You will see quite a lot of activity around the cluster, scout bees flying to and fro then reporting back about suitability of various potential new homes. Sometimes they will decide within a few minutes, occasionally it can take days.

When a consensus has been reached they take to the skies again and head for their new home. Once they have started to build comb and the queen has started laying eggs again, they are no longer a ‘swarm’; they are a colony.

Beekeepers are keen to collect swarms for 2 main reasons:

  • the bees’ concept of an ideal home can sometimes be at odds with humans’. If they settle in a roof space, a thatch, an outbuilding, or anywhere inconvenient it can be difficult and costly to remove them; such removal is often outside the beekeeper’s capability for reasons of insurance as well as health and safety
  • a swarm taken by a beekeeper will be given a good, clean, safe new home. It will be checked for diseases and will be fed appropriately until established. A swarm settling as a feral colony may chose a poor site, the weather may prevent them from foraging, or they could be carrying significant loads of Varroa mites

Swarming was strongly encouraged in Medieval times when the saying ran:
“A swarm of bees in May is worth a field of hay
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly”

In those days, honeybees where kept in ‘skeps’ – woven baskets – and the only way to harvest honey was to kill the bees – an appalling thought nowadays! Therefore, encouraging the bees to make new colonies made sure that the beekeepers would still have bees to overwinter and start again next year. A swarm in May would build up well, whereas a swarm taken in July would struggle to reach a size that was capable of surviving winter.

Now, of course, we have hives that are cleverly-designed, being the right shape for a colony of bees and allowing us to harvest any excess of honey that they might store (only the excess – it would be counter-productive to take more than they can readily spare).

Every effort should be made to preserve honeybees as they are under threat.

Asian Hornet Identification

The Asian hornet – Vespa velutina – is not native to the UK and is NOTIFIABLE (*). It was accidentally introduced to the south of France in 2004 and has quickly worked its way up towards The Channel. The first Asian hornet nest in the UK was found and destroyed in 2016, since when there have been isolated incidents.

The first Asian hornet nests in Hampshire were found in September 2018 along with nests in other parts of the UK. Other Asian hornet nests are likely, and vigilance is absolutely essential. Once established, this species will be very hard to eradicate. It is an extremely aggressive predator and a colony of Asian hornets will decimate a colony of honeybees in a few hours. A single queen will establish a colony early in spring and will raise thousands of worker hornets and hundreds of young queens, which will come through winter and start their own colonies.

(*) ‘Notifiable’ means that, by law, you must report any sighting to the appropriate authority. In this instance, it is the Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) by email
at or by using the Android or iPhone app which can be downloaded from the National Bee Unit web page or by using their online sighting form

The Asian hornet (Vespa velutina)

The Asian hornet worker is up to 25mm long (slightly shorter than the European hornet), has dark legs with yellow tips, a dark thorax and a dark abdomen that has an orange/yellow band at the end. Its head is dark from above, orange from front. It is completely silent in flight. It is never active at night.

European hornet (Vespa crabro)

European hornet (Vespa crabro)

The European hornet is native to the UK and is not a threat. The worker is up to 30mm long with brown legs. It has a black thorax with extensive brown markings, and a yellow abdomen with brown markings on the upper side, not banded. Its head is yellow from above an from the side. it buzzes loudly in flight. The European hornet sometimes flies after dark.

If you are a beekeeper, try to allow an extra 10 to 15 minutes when you visit your bees. Just stand or sit and watch the hive entrances because the Asian hornets’ hawking behaviour is instantly recognisable.

A useful identification chart can be found at the National Bee Unit website, from which these images were taken.

ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD YOU APPROACH OR ATTEMPT TO REMOVE AN ASIAN HORNET NEST. This insect has a highly potent 8mm sting that is not barbed, so she can and will sting repeatedly and the pheromones released will summon her nest-mates to join the attack. Report your sighting using the advice above.

Honeybees and Neighbours

“Beekeeping is a wonderful hobby. Bees are interesting creatures, with a fascinating life. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates this and, unless care is taken in keeping bees and siting colonies, trouble can result” (BBKA leaflet B1 – Bees and Neighbours).

Two unfortunate incidents occurred involving Hampshire beekeepers. One involved bees from a beekeeper’s ‘out apiary’ (an apiary situated away from home) repeatedly swarming into a neighbouring garden. The beekeeper was not local or known to those living in the area.

The other, much more serious, involved the death of a dog. Hives in a beekeeper’s garden, part of a small estate, were accessed by a neighbour’s dog. The bees reacted in a predictable manner.

By following BBKA guidelines both these incidents could have been avoided. The former by the beekeeper leaving a contact number somewhere prominently at the apiary ; the second by following the guidelines in BBKA leaflet Bees, Neighbours & Siting an Apiary.

“Beekeepers have the right to keep bees. Their neighbours have the right to enjoy their property in peace. Badly kept and positioned colonies can be a nuisance”. It is a beekeeper’s responsibility to avoid their bees becoming a nuisance and to take appropriate steps if they so become.

“Most beekeepers are tempted by the familiar and convenient location of their own garden where they can watch their bees at work and tend to them easily, but small gardens, particularly those surrounded by houses are not likely to be a successful solution. With careful management a small garden in open countryside or a garden at least the size of a tennis court could provide a suitable site for two or three hives.”

If you are new to beekeeping or are moving bees to a new site, please download and read the BBKA leaflet “Bees, Neighbours & Siting an Apiary” to ensure you manage both your bees and your neighbours satisfactorily for all concerned!

Veterinary Medicines Record Keeping

The Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2006 require proof of purchase and records of administration to be kept for all food-producing animals – this includes honeybees. The purpose of record keeping is to provide traceability of specific batches of products. This is intended to:

  • provide a basis for effective recall of a batch or batches should this become necessary; and
  • provide traceability of the use of medicines in food-producing animals.

All records must be in writing, durable, permanent and made available upon request to a person duly authorised by any person or body having a duty of enforcement. The record may be kept electronically. The Regulations set out the following record keeping requirements.

The owner or keeper of food-producing animals is responsible for keeping proof of purchase of all veterinary medicinal products acquired for those animals. You must also record the following information at the time of purchase:

  • name of the product; and the batch number
  • date of each purchase of a veterinary medicinal product
  • quantity purchased
  • withdrawal period
  • name and address of the supplier

At the time of administration you must also record the following information:

  • name of the product
  • date of administration
  • quantity administered
  • the withdrawal period
  • identification of the animals treated

If the product is disposed of, other than by treating an animal, you must also record:

  • the date of disposal
  • the quantity of the product involved
  • how and where it was disposed

All records and proof of purchase must be kept for at least five years following the administration or disposal of the product, even if the animals covered have been slaughtered or have died during that period.

Take note that it is an offence to fail to comply with these regulations.

The VMD encourages the voluntary keeping of records for the purchase and administration of other products outside the scope of these regulations.

Healthy Bees

For happy healthy honey bees, follow this advice from Beulah Cullen:
  1. Establish a system of Varroa monitoring and treatment.
  2. Inspect the brood area frequently for signs of disease. At the very least, bees should be shaken from the combs in Spring and Autumn and every brood cell inspected to make sure that the contents are healthy; if you are unsure, seek expert advice (*). Read the NBU leaflets on brood diseases and Varroa.
  3. Don’t forget the adult bee diseases. Inspect the adults for nosema and tracheal mites (acarine) at the beginning and end of each season.
  4. Handle bees gently to avoid crushing them. Crushed bees spread diseases, and will incite other to sting.
  5. Hive swarms from unknown sources onto new foundation well away from your own colonies, and don’t feed them until they have had time to digest the honey that they brought with them (about two days). That honey may be infected, so should not be stored in comb.
  6. Control robbing in the apiary; never leave combs or honey exposed to robbing bees. Never feed bees honey, other than their own. Keep the apiary tidy.
  7. If a colony of bees dies, seal the hive to prevent robbing until you have time to deal with it properly; then check the combs for signs of brood disease.
  8. Be particularly vigilant when moving brood frames from one colony to another. Are both donor and recipient colonies healthy? Always check for disease before uniting colonies.
  9. Replace brood comb regularly, ideally every year.
  10. Sterilise second-hand hive parts with a blow torch before use. Never use second-hand combs; burn them if they come with a second-hand hive.
  11. Be sure your bees have sufficient stores at all times; if in doubt, feed.

(*) For detailed information on honey bee diseases visit Beebase or Vita-Europe

Abandoned Hives

A lot of attention is paid to ensuring new beekeepers are well trained and make a good start on their hobby but I find less said about stopping. Deciding to stop may be from choice or a change of circumstances but similar questions arise.

I am surprised at the number of times I have been contacted by someone who has come across an abandoned hive, sometimes with bees other times just rotten comb. I’m sure I don’t need to remind most beekeepers of the pests and diseases these hives can harbour. Also when collecting lots for the Meon Valley Beekeepers Association (MVBKA) Annual Auction I have on a number of occasions been offered a variety of old and dirty or even rotten equipment.

If you know of anyone who is struggling with their beekeeping or has doubts about what to do, please try and speak to them and see if you can help. Yes, it can be embarrassing but they may be aware of the situation and just need a little nudge to make sure there bees are cared for and equipment properly disposed of.

These thoughts were prompted when we started to prepare for the MVBKA annual auction. One of the functions of our, and similar auctions, is to recycle used kit and not let it just rot away. Ours is just one of several such auctions and I would urge people to consider using these, not just to raise a bit of cash but if anyone puts in a bid for a decent bit of kit they are going to use it!  There is no value in moving rubbish from one shed to another!

I was pleased last year to receive a thank you note from one of our vendors – I think it illustrates the point well.

Swarm Liaison Contacts

Local beekeepers are often prepared to collect swarms of honeybees.

What is a swarm? Click here to find out.

Please note that beekeepers can not provide any service for wasps nests, bumble bees or masonary bees. The Local Authority may possibly provide a service for wasp nests, otherwise a private pest control contractor can be found via the telephone directory or web search.

It is reasonable for the beekeeper to be reimbursed the travel expense of attending to a swarm, and this should be mentioned before arrival so that you are forewarned and can come to an agreement. Some beekeepers collect a swarm to add bees to their own stocks, some to pass the bees on to another beekeeper (possibly a novice), others simply as a service to the public. But while the bees are being collected a nice cup of tea will rarely be declined. Every swarm that is collected will be checked and cared for.

A swarm will usually fly away within a day or so unless captured but they can be gathered easily by a beekeeper if they are on an accessible bush or tree. Sometimes the swarm is inaccessible or may have established a new home which makes them more difficult to collect. If the bees have moved into a cavity such a chimney, hollow tree or wall, then it may be impossible to collect and, if they are a nuisance, they should be dealt with by a qualified pest control contractor.

To find your nearest Beekeeper and to help you identify the type of bees you have please use the swarm postcode lookup on the British Beekeepers’ Association website

A list of Hampshire Swarm Contacts from our local associations is shown below although you should first use the postcode lookup on the BBKA site to find your nearest beekeeper

Andover Beekeepers’ Association April to August please phone 07469 852269; otherwise please go to association website
Avon Valley Beekeepers’ Association  
Basingstoke Beekeepers’ Association April to August please phone 07580 528482; otherwise please go to association website
Fareham & District Beekeepers’ Association Steve Wilson, 07788 997737
Fleet & District Beekeepers’ Association Please use BBKA website
Meon Valley Beekeepers’ Association April to August please phone 07951 123 365; otherwise please go to association website
Meridian Beekeepers’ Association Please go to association website
New Forest Beekeepers’ Association Please go to association website or call Warwick Newson on 07976 258062
Petersfield & District Beekeepers’ Association Greg Gumming: 07531 901767
Portsmouth Beekeepers’ Association Please go to association website
Romsey & District Beekeepers’ Association April to September, call 07508 716044; else please go to association website
South-West Hampshire Beekeepers’ Association Please go to association website or call the Swarm Hotline on 07561 147193
Southampton & District Beekeepers’ Association March to September, call 07766 629763; else please go to association website
Winchester & District Beekeepers’ Association March to September, call (0701) 775 8191; else please go to association website

Spray Liaison Contacts

Farmers – do you need to spray crops?
Please let local beekeepers know by registering the information on BeeConnected at least 48 hours in advance.

Many valuable crops benefit from insect pollination. Bees may travel several miles in search of a good food source and honey bee colonies can be severely affected if the flowers they are visiting have been sprayed with chemicals. Please use BeeConnected to warn local beekeepers whenever you plan to use a spray which may be harmful to bees so that the local beekeepers can take precautions.

Beekeepers – please ‘sign up’ to BeeConnected. There is no need to give a grid reference; the website allows you to pinpoint the site on a map. Details are kept safe and secure, and the location of your apiaries is never shared or displayed to anyone but yourself.

‘BeeConnected’ is a trusted website that brings farmers and beekeepers together. Farmers and contractors specify where, when and what they intend to spray; beekeepers within a given radius are automatically informed so that they can take appropriate action.

Whether you are a gardener or farmer please always follow the instructions and only spray at the time and in the climatic conditions described on the label.

Fuller advice on honey bees and plant protection products is available on the APHA/HSE website Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products.

Thank you for your cooperation.