The Honey Bee Health Strategy

To achieve a sustainable and healthy population of honey bees for pollination and honey production in Scotland.

Section 1: Introduction

1. The overall Aim of the Strategy is:

To achieve a sustainable and healthy population of honey bees for pollination and honey production in Scotland through strengthened partnership working between stakeholders with interests in honey bees

2. Development of this Strategy, in partnership with those involved in beekeeping, signals the Scottish Government's ongoing commitment to:

  • protect and improve the health of honey bees and support those who manage them
  • a sustainable natural environment as a result of a thriving and healthy population of honey bees

3. It will contribute to two of the Scottish Government's Strategic Objectives:

  • Wealthier & Fairer - enable businesses and people to increase their wealth and more people to share fairly in that wealth
  • Greener - improve Scotland's natural and built environment and the sustainable use and enjoyment of it

4. The overriding aim of the Strategy could not be achieved by one sector acting in isolation of other interested parties. A strengthened partnership, involving all interested parties, is essential if current and evolving threats to bee health are to be successfully identified and addressed.

5. The Strategy identifies the various outcomes, activities, priorities and importantly describes the distinct roles and responsibilities of the Scottish Government and its agencies/delivery bodies (e.g. SASA, SAC, Scottish Enterprise ( SE), Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) etc.), beekeepers, their Associations and other stakeholders (such as the agriculture and horticulture sector) in achieving these aims. Following publication of this Strategy detailed actions will be developed and implemented in consultation with interested parties.

6. It is not the intention of the Strategy to change existing basic policy on bee health as there is a well established framework of domestic and international legislation and other agreements already in place (further details of which can be found on the Scottish Government website 1 ).


7. Beekeeping plays an indispensable role in the survival of honey bees in Scotland where there are very few feral or wild colonies remaining. In Scotland there are around 25 commercial bee farmers whose businesses depend on the management of healthy honey bees, around 1,400 bee hobbyists who are members of the Scottish Beekeepers Association ( SBA) and an estimated further 1,000 hobbyists who are not. Bee farming businesses in Scotland are generally small to medium sized enterprises, the value of their honey production varies from year to year but collectively it averages several million pounds per annum, in addition these businesses are important locally as employers.

8. Healthy thriving bee colonies are also important to soft fruit and arable farmers as crop pollinators, and although it is difficult to put a definitive economic value on this, using the methodology of the National Audit Office ( NAO) it was estimated to be worth around £12m in 2009 2 . Other estimates, including a wider range of crops, put this figure at £17m. The contribution of honey bees to pollination of Scotland's flora should also be recognised but its value is difficult to estimate.

9. The high number of non-commercial beekeepers presents particular challenges for safeguarding bee health. Without specialist support, their efforts to manage bee health or to collaborate effectively with other beekeepers to address common problems may be limited. These difficulties are compounded because many beekeepers are difficult to reach as they are not members of any beekeeping associations and there is no compulsory registration of beekeepers. Although beekeeping associations and individual bee farmers have limited resources and capacity it is encouraging that so much has been achieved through voluntary efforts and co-ordinated action.

Challenges and Opportunities

10. Honey bees contribute directly to sustainable local food production and more broadly, through pollination, to crop production.

11. However, honey bees are susceptible to pests and diseases. Current risks include diseases such as American Foulbrood ( AFB), European Foulbrood ( EFB), the Varroa mite and associated viruses, pests such as the Small Hive Beetle ( SHB), parasitic brood mites ( Tropilaelaps species) and invasive non-native species such as the Asian Hornet (which preys on colonies), ( additional information on pests and diseases can also be found on the Scottish Government website).

12. In 2009, widespread outbreaks of foulbrood were identified in Scotland. Several hundred hives were affected and the beekeeping sector and Government were not well prepared. Resources and systems were severely stretched and the outbreaks served as a wake up call to all concerned to be better prepared against threats to the bee population.

13. In the preceding 10-15 years the mite Varroa destructor has been the major concern for Scottish beekeepers. Infestation and the consequent debilitating effect on colonies, if not managed and treated correctly, remains a concern to Government and stakeholders as Varroa continues to be the major threat to the sustainability of the honey bee population. A particular concern is the development of resistance to the available pyrethroid varroacides and the limited number of alternative treatments (additional information on veterinary medicines for honey bees is available on the Veterinary Medicines Directorate ( VMD) website 3 ).

14. Beekeeping in Scotland is carried out by a community of individuals and small businesses whose interests, objectives and priorities may seem diverse, for example in terms of the strains of bee that they prefer to use, the level of trade or relocation they undertake and their emphasis on pleasure or business. However, among these differences there are common interests such as the bees themselves, the craft of beekeeping and in using best practices that suit individual circumstances to achieve their objectives.

15. To protect the honey bee as an important pollinator and honey producer in Scotland, pests and diseases must be managed using good husbandry practices and preferably using Integrated Pest Management ( IPM). To achieve this, information about pests, diseases and good husbandry practices must be easily accessible to all beekeepers.

16. Markets for honey and honey based products are strong and growing, and within this, the positioning of health based products and those of known provenance provide an opportunity for the sector.

17. The Scottish Government, its agencies and delivery bodies, and national associations will keep under review other hazards, such as pesticide poisoning 4 , loss of habitat and other environmental changes, and their impacts on the sustainability of honey bees. In the event of significant impacts the Scottish Government will work with relevant agencies to review and improve, as necessary, current arrangements and practices.

18. The availability of forage for honey bees is a particular issue that requires co-ordination between beekeepers and landowners, and discussion with policy makers. Farmers, landowners and seed houses will have better knowledge and motivation to encourage a greater availability of higher value nectar and pollen crops.


19. This strategy is concerned with protecting and improving the health of honey bees which are managed for honey production and/or for pollination of food and non-food crops. Equivalent plans for England & Wales 5 and Northern Ireland 6 have been prepared, and co-ordinated implementation of these plans is vital to achieving successful outcomes.

20. The health of honey bees, in the context of this strategy, is concerned with anything associated with hive management that affects their health, including bacteria, viruses, arachnids (i.e. mites), insects, fungi and other pathogens which cause disease or feed on bees, as well as adverse effects caused by other threats such as invasive non-native species and the misuse of pesticides.

21. We do not fully understand the extent to which the environment around a hive affects the health of bee colonies. It would seem reasonable to expect that poor foraging habitat, misuse of insecticides and a range of other factors could increase stress on managed bee colonies, thereby increasing their susceptibility to disease. However, this strategy covers the direct management of bee colonies and although it does not cover wider Scottish Government policies on habitat management for biodiversity (e.g. the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 7 ) their success is inter-linked.

22. Scotland's national food and drink policy, Recipe for Success 8 , is based on quality food production in a sustainable environment. A sustainable and healthy population of honey bees for pollination and honey production in Scotland will help deliver this.

23. Other policy areas relevant to managing the health of the honey bee include food safety controls ( regulations on residues in honey from pesticides and medications 9 and veterinary medicines controls 10 ). While these areas are outside the scope of the strategy itself, liaison and close co-operation with the relevant lead agencies is necessary to achieve the outcomes.

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