Scottish Honey Bee Health Strategy Steering Group - November 2020

Minutes of the meeting of the Scottish Honey Bee Health Strategy Steering group on 16 November 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Nick Ambrose, Scottish Government, Animal Health & Welfare (AHW) – Chairperson
  • Luis Molero, Scottish Government (AHW) - Lead Bee Inspector
  • Jackie Quigley, Scottish Government (AHW) – Secretariat
  • Fiona Highet, Scottish Government (SASA) - Senior Entomologist 
  • Mairi Carnegie, Scottish Government (SASA) - Lab Manager
  • Angus MacAskill, Scottish Government - Bee Inspector (Observer)
  • Karen MacKenzie, Scottish Government - Bee Inspector (Observer)
  • Graeme Sharpe, SRUC - Apiculture Specialist
  • Phil McAnespie, Scottish Beekeepers Association – President
  • Matthew Richardson, Scottish Beekeepers Association - Bee Health Convener
  • Margaret Ginman, Bee Farmers Association - General Secretary
  • Murray McGregor, Bee Farmers Association - Scottish Representative
  • Julian Parker, National Bee Unit (NBU), APHA - Acting Head of NBU
  • Stan Whitaker, Nature Scot (SNH)
  • Kate Pollard, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI)


  • Gregor Caldwell, Scottish Government (RPID) - Deputy Head/Area Offices
  • Margaret Thomas, NBD - Member

Items and actions

Welcome and apologies

Nick extended a warm welcome to everyone, in particular to those attending for the first time. Apologies as above.

Previous meeting minutes on 14 November 2019

The minutes from the previous meeting were agreed.

SNH: licensing and release of a puccinia rust fungus for biocontrol of himalayan balsam in Scotland

SNH highlighted a trial taking place in Scotland (having successfully been established in England and Wales) re: anyone wishing to release rust fungus must do so by applying to NatureScot for a non-native species licence. Risks have been identified relating to bumble bees (reduction in available nectar from balsam and from the replacement of himalayan balsam by other invasive non-native plants which could be mitigated through positive management for native vegetation and planting other late-season food plants for bees) and honeybees (in some locations it can be crucial in helping honey bees provision their colonies to survive over-winter and, according to the 2019 National Honey Monitoring Scheme, is one of the top 10 most dominant species visited by bees).

NatureScot are looking at ways to effectively consult with beekeepers to raise awareness of the issue.

It was agreed that local beekeeping associations should be kept informed about the release of rust fungus in their area, as a matter of courtesy. Beekeepers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the availability of nectar throughout the season and between years. Biological control is likely to take a number of years to have much effect on himalayan balsam; letting beekeepers know about releases in their area will allow them to plan ahead for the future.


  • CABI to provide articles about himalayan balsam and biocontrol for the Scottish Beekeepers Association and Scottish Bee Farmers Association magazines (contacts below)
  • NatureScot to write to the Scottish Beekeepers Association and Scottish Bee Farmers Association to establish a procedure for consulting local beekeeping associations prior to releases in their area 

SASA report

Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions have obviously had an impact and raised a number of challenges for example, lab closures, staff redeployment, however the SASA bee team adapted well and are extremely grateful to stakeholders for their understanding and support. 

Particular mention was given to:

  • communication pathways being put to good use to convey service changes, workarounds and advice directly to those affected during a rapidly changing situation ensuring SASA continued to provide expert advice and information directly to SG and to beekeepers on bee health related matters
  • restrictions on the training that SASA could provide as all in-person training had been cancelled since mid-March, some on-line events did go ahead and adapting to these new communication tools will be useful in future as it allows for a wider audience and more remote communities to be reached
  • in addition, the SVQ Nat5 bee health workshop, originally planned for June 2020, was postponed and finally cancelled; the training team providing videos and worksheets to schools as an alternative to the in-person workshop
  • foulbrood diagnostics was considered an essential function and was allowed to continue despite lab closures
  • bee inspectors and accredited beekeepers informed SASA when samples were en-route and whilst there were significant postal delays at times all samples were received and most processed within 24 hours of receipt
  • accompanying paperwork was also completed when accompanying the samples which helped minimise risks and helped lab staff quickly and safely complete their duties. 2020 saw 184 cases (apiaries) submitted to the lab, accounting for approximately 363 individual samples (colonies)
  • varroa, adult bees testing and pesticide incidents was considered a lower priority and workarounds were advised on SASA’s website and through BHIP communication channels
  • research and development; there has been limited ability to provide new research during 2020, however links with academia remain strong and ideas for new projects are in development and it is worthy of mention that many bee health research papers have been published during 2020, several of which have been from scottish institutes
  • samples collected to help validate sub-clinical EFB testing are currently in storage awaiting resources and lab capacity to further this work where strain typing of new outbreaks will be a priority
  • in addition, a new PhD student at the University of Aberdeen commenced their research in September 2020 where pesticide exposure and associated bee health in urban environments will be investigated, SASA will co-supervise to ensure outcomes are fed into new diagnostic tools and advice

Scottish Government bee inspectorate report

As with every sector, the emergence of COVID-19 has produced a number of challenges for the Scottish Government Bee Health team however the team adapted rapidly to produce safe ways of working for the Inspectors, beekeepers and stakeholders. 

The plan of re-building the bee inspectorate continued with having a well-resourced and trained team:

  • newly appointed inspectors will receive appropriate training in due course for any training that has been put on hold due to COVID-19
  • a comprehensive online training package was developed for staff and the Scottish Government are currently looking at sections of that training being made available to all beekeeping associations in Scotland to use as part of the education and training initiatives
  • RPID have appointed a staff resource to work with the Bee Health team on an emergency plan for 2020, as well as a two year medium term and a five year long term plan for the Bee Health Inspectorate
  • twelve existing agricultural officers with an interest in becoming bee inspectors have been identified
  • the appointment of a new business support team has greatly increased our administrative capacity, which is reflected in our performance figures as recorded in BeeBase

The review of the honey bee health strategy in partnership with the Bee Health Improvement Partnership (BHIP). The 10-year Scottish Honey Bee Health Strategy expired in June 2020. A review will be produced and a way forward established for the creation of a new 10 year strategy.

The review of the EFB control plan. This purpose of the voluntary scheme, for commercial bee farmers within the defined notional infection zone, is to ensure that any outbreak of EFB is contained, reduced and any further spread prevented whilst allowing movements of apiaries which are key for the viability of beekeeping businesses within the affected area. A revised EFB Control Plan for 2020 has now been implemented and published in the Scottish Government Website. The new EFB control plan requires a stricter approach from the signatory businesses to self-inspecting, particularly in the timely reporting of inspections. 

Contingency plans 

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is responsible for the control of invasive species. A contingency plan for a possible incursion of Asian Hornet has been drafted and is currently being reviewed by SNH.

N.B. it has since been agreed that the Bee Health team will take this forward (with input from NatureScot). This work is currently in progress as of 21 October 2021.

Education and stakeholder engagement program

A number of online presentations to local associations were delivered throughout the year as well as discussions around the SG bee health team making monthly contributions to the SBA Magazine. 

Other policy activities include:

  • updated guidance issued by the VMD relating to the use of amitraz based products for varroa control
  • the creation of a Scottish Varroa Working Group. This group will be chaired by Matthew Richardson, SBA Health Convenor and will work in partnership with experts from the Bee Farmers Association (BFA), SBA, FSS, SRUC, SASA, VMD, NBU, FERA Ltd and universities with a view to reviewing all medicines available in the United Kingdom (UK) for the treatment of varroa, clarifying their instructions of use, and to produce a guidance of best practice specific for Scottish Beekeepers, particularly those taking their bees to the heather
  • COVID-19 guidance for beekeepers; working with DEFRA and Welsh Government on producing consistent advice for all beekeepers at a UK level
  • development of a beekeeping grant for crofters under SG-RPID crofters agricultural grants scheme (CAGS)
  • continued working with Defra colleagues regarding the impact on bee health and the beekeeping industry in the UK following Brexit that the future relationship with Europe
  • The main concern relating to the possible changes to international trade rules, access to EU labour for commercial operations and the implementation of the EU animal health regulations into UK law

SBA report

The majority of SBA’s communications with the public/membership and trustees has moved online (including the monthly magazine, online social media and mail chimp) and been embraced by all. The AGM on 30 May introduced changes to the President and a number of trustees. A trustee time limitation period, to try and ensure that trustees and ideas changed for the benefit of the organisation, was brought into the Constitution. Currently there are 15 trustees, a part-time development officer and more recently, a part time paid minute secretary role has been introduced.

Membership of the association has risen slightly to 2,194, up by 3% and there are 41 Affiliated Beekeeping Associations, many of whom are actively contacting their membership by online facilities.

Subscriptions will rise slightly and the compensation scheme cover which the SBA trustees oversee, will have to drop from 10 to 5 colonies. 

Training and Education: webinars, online lectures, Q&A sessions have been delivered by eminent beekeepers, bee farmers and Scottish Government Inspectorate and SASA personnel. These will continue well into next year.

The SBA has recently signed a contract with Magentrix, allowing for the use of a web-based platform which will have substantial benefit to the SBA and members of the public alike. This portal will allow an online bee academy where members can study to sit modular exams when available and also enjoy education in a self-assessment basis, without sitting an exam. A key benefit of the new platform being creating a share-point type link and sharing confidential data with trustees. This will improve security and confidentiality by eliminating the need for trustees to share documentation via email attachments and via drop box.

BFA report

Whilst the heather harvest in Scotland has been very good this year, the harvest of other honeys in Scotland has been more variable. 

Real concerns have been raised throughout the COVID-19 crisis about how commercial bee farmers would be running businesses during the pandemic. The BFA were pleased to be invited to the Scottish Government’s agricultural stakeholders meeting and have been regular attendees. The COVID-19 crisis has led to many more inquiries from the public on issues such as where beehives are placed to furloughed employees looking for new careers.

Training and education of BFA apprentices has continued throughout the pandemic and, like most organisations, have held many meetings over e-platforms like zoom. This has enabled the facilitation of having a speaker from Canada for the virtual AGM.

One of the main ways of communicating with BFA members has been through the Bee Farmer magazine and reported that articles from all sources would be considered for publication.

SRUC report

An online support system is available for beekeepers who are wishing to report their concerns of colony loss during COVID-19 and guidance has been distributed to beekeepers through the usual channels in Scotland. 

Unfortunately, practical sessions have ground to a halt due following government guidance on COVID-19. Communication (phone calls, online meetings etc.), day to day enquiries and advice has continued to be in high demand. 

NBU, APHA, BHAF report

NBU reported:

  • 5,367 Apiaries and 31,867 colonies on BeeBase
  • 629 cases of EFB (33% increase for England and Wales) and 59 cases of AFB
  • 17 training events had been held prior to COVID-19 restrictions (which included Bee Tradex), Three YouTube videos have been produced and webinars trialled
  • total number of import consignments was 318 (decrease of 23%), however imports of queens have went up 6.5% with a total number of 21,405 being imported
  • imports of packages and colonies went down by 19%, number of packages imported 1,882 and colonies 363
  • the number of consignments inspected was 159
  • the honey residue testing was initially paused due to COVID-19, this meant that the 6 months programme was truncated into July to September with 104 samples being tested
  • suspect poisoning sample found Glyphosate above MRL in honey, WIIS, HSE and FSA are still investigating
  • the RAG rules on Beebase being updated following a study from Newcastle university
  • Technical Advice Panels (TAPs) for bee health established: Contingency Planning Support (CPS), Technical Data and Information (TDI), PPE, Safety and Equipment (PSE)
  • there has been one asian hornet sighting in 2020, the first report was on 6 September in Gosport Hampshire; the nest was found on 11 September and destroyed on 12, the nest was immature with no drones or queens

Defra bee health policy reported:

  • they have reviewed the England and Wales 10-year Healthy Bees Plan
  • a new Healthy Bees Plan (HBP) 2030 was published on 3 November 2020 which aims to address the continued challenges to honey bee health
  • the next step is to develop an implementation plan with agreed actions to deliver the four key outcomes of HBP 2030, it will also include measures of progress which will be reviewed at regular intervals
  • the Bee Health Advisory Forum (BHAF) have continued to meet online to discuss bee health matters


Nothing under AOB

Date of next meeting

Date of next meeting to be Wednesday 10 November 2021


Bees Health Improvement Partnership (BHIP)
c/o Scottish Government
Saughton House
EH11 3XD

Back to top