The Honey Bee Health Strategy 2022 - 2032

The main aim of the strategy is “Working in partnership to achieve a healthy and sustainable population of honey bees in Scotland”.


Honey bees contribute directly to local food production and make an important contribution, through pollination, to crops and the wider environment. The economic benefit of pollination to crop production in the UK is approximately £600m each year, based on yield.

As a result of pests and diseases there are few remaining wild colonies of honey bees in the UK. It is now widely accepted that the survival of honey bees relies heavily on beekeeping activities as part of which pests and diseases are managed appropriately.

Scientific analysis and review of insect numbers around the world suggested that 40% of species are undergoing "dramatic rates of decline", with bees, ants and beetles disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles.

Honey bees face similar pressures to other insects around the world. Changes in land management practices, loss of habitat, plant diversity and climate change all impact honey bees in the UK.

However, in Scotland and the UK, honey bees are not in decline, quite the opposite. Beekeeping has become increasingly popular since the creation of the first honey bee health strategy. The number of registered beekeepers and hives continues to increase year on year. Registration of beekeepers in Scotland is not compulsory, however, as of June 2022 there are over 3,000 beekeepers registered on BeeBase looking after just over 40,000 colonies in 4400 apiaries. (BeeBase is the voluntary database run by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and used for registration of beekeepers in Scotland, England and Wales).

The potential for a further increase in the number of beekeepers and rise in the density of beehives brings a number of new issues for honey bee health. These changes require a review of our education and communication programmes to ensure good management, biosecurity and disease control practices are in place. For example, the demand for honey bees has led to an increase in the market for the importation of honey bee colonies, packages and queens into Scotland. Our education and communication programmes are vital to promote awareness of good practices and potential issues such as increasing density of beehives in certain areas leading to higher competition for scarce food sources and more opportunities for disease spread.

Over recent years there has been a growth in beekeeping businesses which focus on selling bees, providing beekeeping experiences to the public or provide "greening" opportunities to a wide variety of clients by installing honey bee hives. Each of these models bring new challenges to bee health in terms of movement of bees, education of beekeepers and different levels of management and responsible practices observed.

A further consequence of the number of beekeepers and density of honey bees in certain areas is a growing concern that managed pollinators may have a detrimental effect on wild native pollinators and fragile ecosystems. There is now emerging evidence that, in certain circumstances, even in areas where honey bees are native (as is the case in Scotland), there is potential for cross-transmission of pests/diseases and competition for food resources with wild pollinators. Understanding the risks posed by competition, changes in plant communities and disease overspill, and mitigating against this by maintaining sustainable levels of healthy bees are an important aspect of responsible beekeeping which this new honey bee health strategy will promote.

Honey bees continue to face challenges in terms of new pests and diseases. The two most concerning pests are Small Hive Beetle (Aethina tumida), now present in Italy, and Asian Hornet (Vespa velutina) which is now well established in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Channel Islands. Great Britain now receives regular incursions of this pest, however, thanks to the excellent work of the National Bee Unit, this invasive pest has so far been controlled, avoiding catastrophic consequences for our honey bees and wild pollinators in the UK.

In terms of notifiable diseases, European Foulbrood (EFB, caused by Melissococcus plutonius) continues to regularly affect the health of our honey bees in Scotland. In certain areas commercial beekeeping operations are seriously impaired due to difficulties with control and eradication of this damaging disease of the brood of honey bees.

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor), although now mostly considered endemic across the UK, continues to be one of the main causes of colony loss for beekeepers, through both the direct damage caused by the mites and the transmission of pathogens. In addition, the very common use of Varroacides presents a risk for food safety and creation of resistant strains if beekeepers use non authorised products or do not follow the rules on use of Veterinary Medicines.

There have been developments within government which affect bee health policy. The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and, following the transition period, the rules governing the new relationship between the EU and UK took effect on 1 January 2021. Amendments have been made to our domestic legislation to enable trade with the EU to continue and to comply with our new status, Varroa was made reportable through The Bee Diseases and Pests Control (Scotland) Amendment Order 2021. However, imports of packages and colonies of honey bees from third countries are not allowed in our domestic legislation, therefore the change of relationship with Europe has meant that the importation of honey bees, on which some of our beekeepers had become reliant, is no longer possible.

With this background and set of challenges, some of which may alter over time, we enter into a new strategy. The following sections and the implementation plan, which will be a living document owned jointly by all stakeholders, operational partners with an interest in honey bees and Scottish Government, will describe the approach and direction of travel for bee health in Scotland over the next 10 years.



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