Until 31st December 2020, packages of bees could be imported into the UK as long as they were accompanied by a bee health certificate. The bees were made available to experienced inspectors at the National Bee Unit. This process was our safeguard against imported pests such as the Small Hive Beetle (SHB), Aethina tumida.
That process no longer exists now that the UK is not an EU member state. Importers can, however, ship packaged bees using a loophole: transit through Northern Ireland.
“Packaged bees” are shipped in a box with no comb and are notoriously difficult to inspect. Inspectors in Northern Ireland cannot – and cannot be expected to – deal with such imports. The majority of such shipments come from southern parts of Italy where SHB has necessitated the destruction of some 3,500 hives since 2014.
British, Welsh, Ulster and Scottish Beekeepers’ Associations and Bee Disease Insurance Ltd have jointly issued a briefing note to Westminster and the devolved governments to warn them of the real and serious risk to the honey bee population in the UK while this loophole exists.
Please read the BBKA statement. This is an important issue that affects all beekeepers.
Note: A nucleus colony is a small colony with all stages of life: eggs, larvae and pupae, house bees and foragers, and a young queen on clean, drawn comb. Nucleus colonies are occasionally advertised as package bees on new foundation; such colonies require extra care and attention and are not recommended for inexperienced beekeepers.
- National Bee Unit Best Practice Guideline No. 9 – small hive beetle
- National Bee Unit Best Practice Guideline No. 8 – Sale of Honeybee Nuclei