Bee Health Improvement Partnership minutes: August 2023

Minutes of the meeting held on 31 August 2023

Attendees and apologies

Attendees (in person)

  • Luis Molero, Scottish Government (SG) Animal Health and Welfare (AHW), Veterinary Advisor (Bee Health) and Chairperson
  • Linsey Watt, SGAHW, Bee Health, Policy Officer
  • Claire Gill, SGRPID, Bee Health Delivery Lead
  • Matthew Richardson, Scottish Beekeepers’ Association, President and Bee Health Convener
  • Stephen Sunderland, Scottish Beekeepers’ Association, Vice President
  • Fiona Highet, SGSASA, Senior Entomologist
  • Mairi Carnegie, SGSASA, Laboratory Manager
  • Murray McGregor, Bee Farmers’ Association, Scottish Representative

Attendees (online)

  • Margaret Thomas, National Diploma in Beekeeping (NDB), Member
  • Lorraine Johnston, SRUC, Bee Health Advisor
  • Paul Barton, Bee Farmers’ Association, Membership Services
  • Kate Wilson, National Bee Unit (NBU)
  • Shaun Cook, Defra
  • Kathleen Carroll, Welsh Government
  • Fiona McKenna (DAERA)
  • Paul Houston (DAERA)


  • Nicola Kerr, SGAHW, Head of Bee Health Policy
  • Jim Jeffrey, NatureScot

Items and actions

Welcome, introductions and apologies

Luis Molero welcomed everyone to the meeting noting attendees/apologies as above.

Introductions were made and new members were welcomed to the group.

Previous minutes and review of actions (9 May 2023)

Previous minutes were agreed shortly after the last meeting and subsequently published on the SG bee health web pages.

There was one outstanding action point from the previous meeting:

i. Any members who have capacity to help with the review of the National Five in Beekeeping were asked to speak to Lorraine. If anyone has capacity, please contact Lorraine direct. Agreed to keep open.

Updates relevant to the group from invited administrations

Shaun Cook (Defra) informed the group that they are dealing with a high number of Asian hornet sightings and confirmed nests in South East England, specifically Kent. They will not know if it is a lone incursion or indication of a potentially settled population until the end of the season when genetic analysis will be conducted by FERA. Shaun noted that the NBU are doing a fantastic job finding nests quickly and controlling the situation. Luis reiterated this noting that this is keeping Scotland safe and asked for the BHIP thanks to be passed to the NBU inspectors for their work.

Kate Wilson (NBU) stated that this is putting a strain on resources with 50% of inspectors on outbreaks, managing two-three sites at one time, and that the NBU are seeking support from other parts of APHA. In terms of foulbrood inspections, Kate confirmed they are focussing on high priority ones and continuing to respond to concerning reports.

Luis highlighted his concerns about the cross-border movement of bees within the UK i.e. beekeepers in England moving to the heather in Scotland and beekeepers in Scotland moving their bees down South. Due to the lack of compulsory registration and recording movement of bees, it is unknown the impact this is having in terms of spreading disease. Luis and Kate agreed to discuss this further once the strain typing of EFB cases is complete.  

There were no updates from Welsh Government or DAERA on this occasion.

Additional topics for discussion raised by members / reports

Increases in the number and locations of AFB and EFB

Claire Gill provided an update to the group on the recent outbreak in the Lothians where inspectors found both AFB and EFB in one beekeeper’s apiaries. The Inspectorate carried out extensive targeted surveillance around the infected apiaries, inspecting 43 beekeepers, not just in the 3 km area, but also unregistered beekeepers who they were informed of by the local beekeepers. Inspectors did not find any further disease and it appears to not have spread, although it was noted EFB can take longer to appear and these beekeepers will be inspected again next year. Claire confirmed that inspectors are still investigating where the disease came from but the strain typing results showed the strains for both AFB and EFB were commonly found in Scotland. Claire also mentioned that she, along with Lorraine, carried out two presentations over two nights to 85 beekeepers in the area which were well received.

The following areas were highlighted and discussed:

Whether the Scottish Government Bee Inspectorate, who have a responsibility for bee health in Scotland, have let the beekeeping sector down by missing the infection of the beekeeper in the Lothians until this year. Claire Gill clarified that the beekeeper in question was inspected two years ago and no disease was found at the time, it was also in an area with no disease and was not on the priority list for inspections.   

The bee health team have identified a reduction in the number of calls from beekeepers identifying foulbrood this year. The bee health team have also noted that in some of the cases they found a high level of infection. The group therefore discussed the effectiveness of the bee health team’s education programme given beekeepers are not recognising disease. It was agreed that there is a requirement for more practical hands-on workshops with foulbrood frames to aid disease recognition, which the BHIP decided to explore for next year.

Mairi Carnegie reminded the BHIP members that, other organisations such as the SBA and the BFA should also contribute and do their part to deliver education to the beekeeping sector. 

Discussion around the disease trends and the correlation with the number of inspections.  In Scotland, approx. 13,300 inspections have taken place, although it was noted this includes self-inspections by those in the EFB Control Plan. The figures on how many inspections have been carried out by inspectors and how many were self-inspections by commercial beekeepers in the EFB control plan will be available at the end of the season. Self-inspection data will be analysed for any discrepancies and fed back to the Bee Farmers.

Action: Kate to check if BeeBase inspection figures for England include the DASH programme.

The group also discussed the difficulties that the team faces reaching those beekeepers who are not registered on BeeBase, are not members of the SBA or the BFA, and a need to identify how best to engage with them. The Bee Health Team had to postpone a bee health day earlier this year targeted for this group due to low uptake. Need to figure out best time of year to hold a workshop when it is not in the middle of swarming season but when EFB frames are available.

Are the current foulbrood controls in Scotland now fit for purpose?

The key points discussed were: 

Difficulties engaging with some large commercial businesses which refuse to engage with the bee inspectorate. The bee health team has powers to inspect any hives when there is a suspicion of disease in an area, but this is highly time consuming. Those who are not identified represent a risk for the rest of beekeepers in Scotland and could be infected and act as a permanent source of disease for all neighbouring apiaries. The group discussed the current controls for EFB in Scotland and their suitability now that there is more science and understanding of the disease.

There is a balance to be struck between stringent controls that protect other beekeepers from infection and ensuring that these do not make those businesses which are infected financially unviable.

Matthew Richardson explained that there is a general lack of understanding around EFB controls in Scotland. Most beekeepers do not understand what the EFB control plan is and confuse the EFB control plan with the EFB control strategy. The group agreed that once the new EFB Control Plan is ready, there needs to be communication to explain what this means.

Action: On Nicola’s return, Linsey to schedule a meeting with members to specifically discuss and decide a strategy for EFB controls in Scotland.

Following increased numbers of Asian hornet outbreaks in South England, should BHIP provide co-ordinated communication to Scottish beekeepers to raise awareness/encourage surveillance over peak detection period?

Following discussions, the group agreed to carry out the following:

Action: Once the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme (POMS) announce their survey, the group agreed to share this as widely as possible (e.g. using social media) and ask beekeepers to fill this in.

Action: When the genetic analysis has been completed down South in relation to their Asian hornet outbreaks, write an article for the SBA magazine summarising the findings.

Proposals for our education and communication approach

Lorraine Johnston provided an update to the group on the work she has undertaken so far in terms of education and communication.

The group discussed using different formats to deliver education to try to target those groups who are difficult to reach e.g. using videos and podcasts. Lorraine mentioned that her podcast was the most listened to SRUC podcast, which included some international listeners.  

Lorraine highlighted that the videos are funded by Farm Advisory Services (FAS) programme and are very professional. Lorraine also noted work is underway on a new website which will be accessible for all where educational material will be available.  

It was suggested the inspectors undertake the train the trainers’ course to help them with delivering presentations, talks etc. However, Luis clarified that due to RPID resources,  education sits with policy, SRUC and operational partners, SASA for now. Although, there is scope to revisit this in future.

The group discussed the need to create a curriculum for beginner courses that covers all key areas that can be implemented by all local associations. There is a concern that some of the association’s beginner courses are failing to cover basic information on disease recognition, legal framework, veterinary medicines, the role of the bee inspectorate and so forth.    

Action: Lorraine to circulate copies of her plans and strategy to the group for comment.

Action: Lorraine to put together a curriculum for introduction to beekeeping courses for beginners before the next BHIP meeting in November. This should be circulated to the BHIP members for comment and then to the local associations for their feedback.

Implementation Plan

The latest version of the implementation plan was updated following the discussions that took place. In addition, the following was discussed:  

Foulbrood controls

Discussions took place on whether the upcoming review of the EFB Control Plan should be changed to a foulbrood control plan and include AFB. Luis Molero stated that AFB was a disease which had a very clear disease control policy which was effective in its majority. As the difficulties are with EFB, it is preferable to keep EFB as a separate entity within the Honey Bee Health Strategy and AFB as a separate issue.

Compulsory registration

The group discussed a drive in Scotland for compulsory registration. However, it was noted that this clashes with Defra’s views. It was confirmed that the Minister is interested in this topic and that Scotland is keen to align with the EU where possible. It was also noted that policy colleagues in the bee health team meet regularly with other administrations in the rest of the UK to discuss the issues affecting honey bee health. In terms of next steps, there would need to be a consultation and then steps for producing a new piece of legislation. Fixed penalty notices would also be considered. The intention would not be to penalise those beekeepers who through lack of knowledge or misinformation do not register, but to ensure that disease control strategies are as effective as possible and to resolve the outstanding issues with those beekeepers who refuse to engage when disease is found in the area, presenting a risk for the rest of beekeepers in Scotland.

New issues and challenges to be added to the Implementation Plan / Priorities for next quarter:

There were no new issues to add to the implementation plan on this occasion. The current work should continue to be progressed with updates being given to the BHIP when appropriate.

The group agreed that the implementation plan should be updated with the information from members quarterly reports and circulated prior to the next meeting.   

Discussion regarding next BHIP meeting

Date and meeting format

The group agreed that the next meeting scheduled for Tuesday 14 November should be a hybrid meeting and given that this format generates greater discussion, that the length of the meeting should be extended.

Nicola Kerr will chair the next meeting.

Arrangements will be made to have the meeting at either Saughton House or SASA and invites will be issued prior to the meeting.

Luis reiterated the purpose of the BHIP meetings are to work in partnership and direct actions to improve honey bee health in Scotland and welcomed any feedback from the group on whether the meetings are worthwhile, what works well and what can be done to make them as valuable and helpful as possible.

Any Other Business

The group agreed that it would be helpful to have an update on the current structure of the NBU given recent changes as well as an end of season summary.

Action: SG Policy team to ask the NBU for an update on the structure and an end of season summary ahead of the November meeting.

Steering group – Luis clarified that the BHIP meetings were previously made up of four quarterly meetings and a separate steering group meeting with an external person present to provide feedback to the group. However, as the group were not getting what they needed from this, it was agreed by members that the steering group meeting would be replaced by an annual report at the end of the calendar year detailing the groups progress for the Chief Veterinary Officer for Scotland, Sheila Voas.

Suggestions for destruction of hives in poly nucs was discussed: recommendations included transferring the frames to a wooden or cardboard box or placing sponges soaked in petrol on top of the frames.

It was also noted that FERA are currently testing the use of bleach as disinfectant for AFB and EFB using different concentration levels and looking at length of time.

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