Live Bees Update 26/3/21

For those interested in the facts.

I am a beekeeper of nearly 20 years, I have taken my exams and trained other beekeepers as well as giving talks on beekeeping and husbandry. I think that is worth pointing out first.

One of my companies is based in NI, Patrick’s Bee Supplies and they will be importing 1500 (one thousand five hundred) beehives from Italy, these will be in part sold onto beekeepers to help recover losses from previous years and to help new beekeepers get started as well as being used for pollination services across the UK. It is not just the loss of fruit yields we are trying to negate but also the honey yields, just 6,000 tons in the last recorded year on the EU web site. That means across the UK we have to import thousands of tons of honey every year from all over the world including places such as China! Mainly for sale in supermarkets.

I am a member of several organizations in the UK some for imports and some against. Objections are usually from groups with a different agenda it would be fair to say, some idealists who cannot admit that beekeeping is in trouble because of the way it has been historically run and funded.

• In 2019 we had 264,000 hives in the UK by 2020 we had 224,000 (according to government statistics) a massive loss that is impossible for to recover from without intervention. I should also point out that only 647 hives had been lost during 2020 due to disease.
• 2018 the last year the UK made declarations to the EU we had 274,000 hives in the UK, in the early 1950ies we had over 800,000 bee hives in the UK, then it was a largely working-class hobby, you can see the way this is going!
• In 2018 the UK was one of only 3 countries in the EU to have a reduction in beehives. How can that be! The answer lays at the door of the associations and the training programs that appeal mainly to academics not beekeepers.

Onto the import question, firstly the small hive beetle (SHB). Yes, it is in the general area of Southern Italy, nearly 400 miles from our breeding apiaries and in areas controlled and contained by government inspectors. I had visited our suppliers’ apiaries in Italy last September and are happy all his apiaries are clear of the SHB. The hives we have contracted for will be inspected by a government appointed bee inspector before receiving a health certificate and allowed to travel.

When they reach Northern Ireland, they will again be inspected by a government appointed member of the DAERA-NI team who we are in contact with. It is also possible for each regional government inspector to check on the hives again when they arrive at the individual beekeeper’s apiary. I take exception to those people who suggest that the Northern Irish bee inspectors, Italian bee inspectors or UK inspectors are not up to the task. The gene pool, this is a real red herring, for these bees to impact the local genetic pool two things have to happen.

Firstly, the bees would need to be on site for 40 days because that is how long it takes for a hive in mid-summer to produce a drone (male bee) that is mature enough to mate with a virgin queen. Ask any breeder, that is hard enough to achieve when planned let alone by accident. Secondly, someone will need to be breeding queens locally at the exactly the same time of year, the queen has a small window of two weeks to get mated, unlikely because of weather condition.

Now the legal stuff, there is no law against what my company is doing this year or what it has done in previous years, the rout has changed for obvious reasons not least of because we are unable to send any equipment to NI let alone bees. We decided to open a branch in NI to best serve our loyal band of customers and that is our position. We have also had two questions asked about the importing, destruction and travel direction of the bees in the House of Lords by Lord Swinfen the two written replies confirmed our entitlement in law to act as we do. Additionally, a similar question was asked in the House of Commons by Rossie Duffield with a similar response.

No backdoor no loop hole just honest trading.

The main chance of SHB arriving on our shores will be from the smuggled trade now being planned for this year, it is possible and likely that unscrupulous importers will bring in bees in cars and vans. Driving this trade underground is the single most dangerous thing any law could encourage.