Bee Health Improvement Partnership minutes: February 2024

Minutes from the meeting of the group held on 13 February 2024.

Attendees and apologies


  • Scottish Government (SG), Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) Head of Bee Health Policy and Chairperson
  • SGAHW, Bee Health, Policy Officer
  • SGSASA, Senior Entomologist
  • SGSASA, Laboratory Manager
  • SGRPID, Deputy Bee Health Delivery Lead
  • Scottish Beekeepers’ Association, President and Bee Health Convener
  • Scottish Beekeepers’ Association, Vice President
  • Bee Farmers’ Association, Scottish Representative
  • Bee Farmers’ Association, Membership Services
  • SRUC, Bee Health Advisor


  • SGAHW, Veterinary Advisor (Bee Health)  
  • SGRPID, Bee Health Delivery Lead
  • National Diploma in Beekeeping (NDB), Member

Items and actions

Welcome, introductions and apologies

The chair welcomed everyone to the meeting noting attendees/apologies as above. Also, noting that the other UK administrations were not invited on this occasion due to the focus of the meeting being Scottish-specific issues relating to European foulbrood (EFB) with the aim of exploring options how to approach an EFB strategy for Scotland moving forward.

Minutes of previous meeting and actions arising

The minutes of the previous meeting held on 12 December 2023 were agreed and accepted as an accurate record after the last meeting and subsequently published on the SG bee health web pages.

Relevant action points from the previous meeting were updated as follows:

  • SG to update the EFB Control Plan for 2024 to clarify that there is a historic agreement in place with some of the signatories where they can use locations outside the control zone if particular requirements are in place, including clarification of areas out with the notional control zone where historical movement of businesses has occurred and is likely to continue. Currently sitting with the Bee Health Delivery Lead – agreed to keep open
  • SG Officials to try source information on the impact in European countries who have de-regulated EFB. No update but is an action SG Officials plan to take forward – agreed to keep open
  • BFA Scottish Representative to produce a report on the economic impact of EFB in a business i.e. cost of control measures such as burning, shook swarm and impact on yield etc. Report started but not complete due to a busy winter period – agreed to keep open and pick up at next meeting
  • SG Officials to finalise discussion paper on Scotland’s EFB Control Strategy and circulate to the group in advance of the EFB workshop. Paper produced and circulated to members to inform discussions – agreed to close
  • all members to send comments/feedback on the draft curriculum for introduction to beekeeping courses for beginners to SRUC by 25 December 2023. Complete  agreed to close
  • SG officials to discuss Asian hornet surveillance for 2024. Covered under AOB

Control Strategy for European Foulbrood (EFB). Discussion on most appropriate approach to reforming the current EFB Control Strategy (Considering containment, surveillance, education and enforcement) 

The Chair asked the group for any initial comments they may have on the paper which was circulated to the group prior to the meeting and set out an overview of the current EFB controls in Scotland; the challenges to the control of EFB in Scotland; and an assessment of the current EFB Control Strategy. Comments included:

  • whilst the paper was intended to be an internal working document, it was agreed that a second paper should be drafted and published externally once a way forward is agreed and should include more background information, specifically what happened in 2009. This should detail the rationale behind any policy changes made by the group for beekeepers
  • bee inspector resources were discussed as a possible barrier
  • the paper does not mention the financial aspect of culling
  • due to cross-border movement of bees, it was suggested that the National Bee Unit (NBU) and Defra should be involved in future discussions
  • it was acknowledged that there are limitations in the regulations and what the group can tell beekeepers to do e.g. no limitations on moves or formal route to report moves or tight regulations on selling nucs. The group acknowledged they can only recommend and strongly encourage best practice
  • the current EFB Control Plan on the SG web pages is missing its appendices which contain key health, safety and biosecurity information. It was felt the plan needs a lot of work to tighten it up. One suggestion was to ask signatories to provide their biosecurity and swarm control plans before being allowed to sign up

The group discussed the options below to approach EFB management:


  • do nothing: accept spread of disease and potential impact
  • containment: prevent wider spread to community and food production
  • containment plus: continue effort to reduce pathogen load within infected businesses; survey wider community using available resources to best efficiency

The subsequent points were noted:

  • theres are pros and cons for each option. Some members of the group felt the groups remit is to review which option is the most effective and report its preference, based on a strong scientific approach, to SG who will then make a final decision based on political, economic and social factors
  • commissioning research to evidence and justify a recommended option was suggested. Although it was noted that this could be a costly and lengthy option and may not reveal any added information. The economic reality in government was also discussed to manage expectations, though some members felt an effort should still be made to push for funds

Action: SG officials to speak to RESAS colleagues about an update to their previous report on the value of the honey bee industry in Scotland

  • the group agreed the BFA Scottish Representative's paper on the economic impact of EFB will be important in decision making

Action: the SBA agreed to add to the BFA Scottish Representative's paper to include figures to show the impact on hobbyist beekeepers. 

  • the group agreed that if there was going to be a push for investment, this would involve time and resource and is a longer-term action. Any changes to the EFB plan/strategy should be broken into short-, medium- and long-term work. Short-term, the group agreed to make some changes to the EFB Control Plan such as adding in the appendices, changes to wording but no policy changes should be made until research is completed

Action: SG to produce short-, medium- and long-term proposals for consideration detailing what actions can be achieved by when.


It is not understood where EFB is across the country. To inform policy development, a programme of identification and surveillance of all commercial premises and a programme of sub-clinical EFB testing in Scotland was proposed. The Chair asked the group for their views on prioritisation of surveillance activity, considering resources and capacity, and how surveillance should be approached across the country. The following points were noted:

  • many Bee Farmers are not members of the BFA so it may be difficult to pick them up
  • all beekeepers should be targeted as a lot of information can be gathered to feed into the review
  • resources were discussed and whether this can be achieved in one beekeeping season
  • it was suggested testing colonies which have been static for a long time to establish if EFB is moving with businesses or whether it is geographically present. Also, whether the control zone should expand or shrink and whether EFB has been managed or if it is still moving
  • surveillance should be random. Sentinel apiaries should be identified in zones to look for overspill in different apiaries. BeeBase data should provide areas which have not had EFB before
  • if resource is an issue, beekeepers can supply a lot of the information required however it was acknowledged there were GDPR issues which would need consideration. It was suggested the SBA could lead on this, taking this out with the Bee Inspectors remit. Volunteers could be sought to help with the administrative aspect of doing surveillance i.e., making up the packs and issuing them
  • the SBA noted that this would be well received by beekeepers who would be happy to contribute, particularly those beyond the current reach of annual inspections. If the outcome were that they had a notifiable disease, SBA members would take responsibility for the consequences and impact this would have
  • it was noted that testing of the samples submitted via survey could not be turned around in the same timescales as statutory inspection-generated samples due to resource constraints. Testing of survey samples would be likely to be done in the later Autumn and Winter when things were a little quieter, and beekeepers would need to be aware of this delay in reporting back on their samples
  • it was queried whether surveillance is a greater priority this year than visiting businesses known to have the disease and who are self-managing it. Would  resources be better re-routed to see what is around these businesses and further afield
  • it was also suggested that beekeepers should be utilised as a resource. Some have completed their exams and are qualified. They could perform inspections and if they find anything, they could contact the inspectors for confirmation of disease presence
  • the SBA asked why sentinel apiaries are not used. SASA colleagues clarified that the Bee Health inspectors do additional inspections which work in a similar fashion to the sentinel apiaries. They do exotic pest surveillance for the Small Hive Beetle at ports and other risk points in Scotland.  There is also a pollinator survey going on where people are being asked to record pollinators on ivy. But this is not beekeeper led work. In the past several years, beekeepers have been asked at the end of the season to report back regarding Asian hornets, although not much ever comes back

EFB Training

  • the group discussed when the best time to hold the Bee Health Day aimed at commercial businesses would be. It was noted that this very much depends on the business and there is no real “best time” as such, though SASA colleagues pointed out that a live comb is needed for the training and this will only be available in the summer.  The BHIP did agree that the onus is very much on the business to prioritise their training and that emphasising why the training was needed i.e. the impact on business if disease is not managed – would be a key factor in encouraging attendance, linking back to the discussion earlier on the financial impact of unmanaged disease incidence in the business
  • the group discussed the popularity of Bee Health Days and it was queried why one of the two advertised last year was cancelled. SG officials advised that the second day was aimed at commercial businesses and had a different focus to the one aimed at hobbyists, but that there was low uptake of the commercials’ day and consequently it was decided not to proceed
  • SG noted that the hobbyist’s day was oversubscribed and could be filled very easily but they were keen to engage with businesses particularly due to scale of enterprise, and in addition to focussing the training appropriately want to ensure they define “business” attendees. After some discussion, it was agreed that the distinction between “individual” and “business” was too nebulous to be defined, so should not attempt to be too constrictive in stating who can attend the training
  • the group agreed the importance of encouraging the “known unknowns” to attend training and make themselves known, that is businesses that operate under the radar of the Bee Inspectors and are consequently the highest risk in terms of disease spreading unchecked. The BHIP agreed that building up awareness is essential and a more visible inspector presence would help with this if resources permitted
  • the BFA offered to do an article linking into the paper about economic impact of disease
  • SRUC will take this discussion into account when developing the 2024 Bee Health Days.


  • the BHIP agreed that a balance between “carrot and stick” is best in terms of encouraging engagement with the Plan. While persistent breaches of the Plan need to be managed, that must be done on a case-by-case basis.  Again, the BHIP emphasised that encouraging businesses to engage positively and proactively with the Plan would be best achieved by setting out the economic benefits of investment vs the costs of dealing with outbreaks. There was strong agreement that the onus should be on the beekeeper in dealing with any outbreaks as this was a biosecurity issue which the keeper should be managing, and that public funding should not be used to compensate for any destroyed hives
  • it was discussed whether a more sensitive testing at sub-clinical level to support a risk-based approach to managing disease would be welcomed. This would minimise the risk of seemingly “clear” hives being moved only for disease to break out in those later. This is something to be considered when developing the strategy going forward. Having a more sensitive test would save inspectors going back to the same place, and the sub-clinical tests can look at the amount of DNA present, giving a level of EFB within an apiary. This could help provide a threshold to which the beekeeper would need to remove diseased colonies
  • how to manage that under the auspices of the Plan was also discussed: whether the Plan should be tightened up to limit what can be moved, but there was also a view that the Plan needs to be flexible. No agreement was reached so this needs to be teased out further

Discussion regarding next BHIP meeting

The next meeting is due to take place on Tuesday 14 May. 

Any Other Business

The Asian Hornet Contingency Plan will be published on 30 March 2024. The BHIP will be sent an embargoed copy on the morning of publication. There will be supporting comms to accompany publication and the BHIP were invited to think about how to spread the word amongst their stakeholders.

The BHIP were also invited to provide feedback on the draft Annual Report which had been drafted for their consideration. They were reminded that this Report is to set out what activity the BHIP has accomplished over the last year and it was critical that their input to the Report informed this.

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